SAN DIEGO (CN) - A wrongful death suit against a San Diego deputy sheriff is proceeding to trial after the deputy along with a group of California Highway Patrol officers killed an active duty Marine who was a veteran of the Iraq war, by shooting him 37 times after pinning his car at the side of the freeway.
After an argument with his wife, Robert Medina led 18 officers and 13 police cars on a slow-speed chase down the I-5 through Oceanside, which is near Camp Pendleton, before he was eventually trapped and penned in near Encinitas a few miles south.
Medina was an active-duty, 22-year-old Marine who had recently returned from a tour in Iraq and suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome, according to a federal court ruling. The syndrome often develops after a person experiences a violent personal attack or traumatic event, such as being in a war zone. Military personnel are especially at risk for developing PTSD, which includes symptoms like flashbacks, depression, and difficulty functioning in social situations.
In the early morning hours of November 16, 2006, Medina had a fight with his wife and left the house even though she asked him not to go.
He drove his truck onto the I-5 freeway, where CHP officers noticed him driving slowly and weaving in and out of his lane. Suspecting that Medina was drunk, the officers tried to pull him over. He did not, however, obey.
The officers tried several tactics to stop Medina, such as laying down spike strips and using special maneuvers to trap his car. When Medina swerved to avoid driving over a spike strip laid down by deputy sheriff Mark Ritchie, chasing officers thought he was trying to hit Richie, they said, so they radioed that he had attempted an "assault with a deadly weapon."
"This radio call caused other law enforcement officers to believe the decedent was a dangerous threat," according to a summary of the facts in the judge's ruling.
The CHP officers eventually forced Medina's truck into the dirt on the side of the freeway. Other officers followed suit, pinning Medina's truck in place with their patrol cars. Ritchie had also rammed the truck.
"By this time, over a dozen officers had converged on the scene and several officers and deputies had taken up positions around the decedent's truck and in close proximity to it," said the ruling.
"Ritchie told homicide investigators that he immediately went to the passenger side of the decedent's truck with his gun drawn," the ruling continued. "Ritchie stated that the passenger side window was partially down and he was able to make eye contact with the decedent and observe his hands on the steering wheel."
The deputy approached the truck with his gun drawn and ordered Medina to get out of the truck several times and fired shots into the truck's tires.
The officers claim Medina aimed the truck's wheels at Ritchie and tried to move his truck. So they filled him full of lead.
According to the ruling, Medina was pulled from the truck alive but died shortly afterwards, as a result of 37 rounds put into him.
In 2009, Medina's wife Jennifer filed her first amended complaint. U.S. District Judge John Houston granted motions to dismiss except those by Ritchie and the County of San Diego. Houston ruled that there was sufficient evidence to support Jennifer's claim that Ritchie had acted unreasonably by shooting her husband, and reasoned that the county could be held liable because the Ninth Circuit had found that sheriffs served as representatives of the county in matters of criminal investigation.
Mrs. Medina filed a second amended complaint in 2010, once again naming all the CHP officers involved in the shooting as defendants. After a year of both parties filing motions against each other, Medina's case was transferred from Judge Houston to U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia last year.
In his ruling, Judge Battaglia denied Ritchie's motion to dismiss, ruling that there is sufficient evidence to support a Fourth Amendment excessive force claim. He rejected the deputy's argument that he should be in the case because Jennifer did not accuse him specifically of killing her husband.
"Plaintiff's allegations in regards to Defendant Ritchie encompass the Defendant's conduct up to the actual killing of the decedent, and whether the Defendant's bullet killed the decedent is but one factor to be considered in reaching the merits of Plaintiff's claims," wrote the judge.
"Plaintiff's allegations that Defendant Ritchie's shooting of the decedent was unreasonably excessive under the circumstances and with intent to harm unrelated to a legitimate law enforcement purpose is plausible," the judge continued.
The judge also denied in part a motion to dismiss by CHP officer Leo Nava who took up a position behind Ritchie and also fired into Medina's car.
Mrs. Medina is represented by Dena Acosta of the North County Law Firm. Emails and calls for comment were not immediately returned.
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