A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that the adoptive parents of the man who killed Sacramento sheriff’s Deputy Robert French in August will not lose their home because he skipped bail before the killing.
The order from U.S. District Judge Susan Illston means that Nichole Littlecloud and her ailing husband, Robert, do not have to forfeit the Castro Valley home they put up a year ago as collateral for Thomas Littlecloud’s $100,000 bail.
The couple’s attorney, Erin Crane, said Friday that Nichole Littlecoud is “very relieved” at the order.
“I’m just very happy for the family, that they get to keep their home, because they’ve been so supportive to so many people in their lives to the community,” Crane added.
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Federal prosecutors had been pressing for an order that the family forfeit the home because Thomas Littlecloud, who was facing drug and weapons charges, failed to appear at court hearings in July 2017.
Littlecloud ended up in an Aug. 30 shootout with authorities in Sacramento that killed French, a 21-year veteran of the department, and left two California Highway Patrol officers wounded. Littlecloud died from wounds in the shootout days later.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Faerstein had argued that the law required the judge to forfeit the bail, but Illston, in a nine-page order, concluded that “it appears that justice does not require bail forfeiture.”
In a hearing a week ago, the judge had signaled that she was leaning toward such a decision, and her order followed the thinking she described at the time: Illston ordered the bond forfeited, as the law requires, then set the forfeiture aside and took note that Nichole Littlecloud had gone to great lengths to try and help law enforcement find her adopted son.
“This case has resulted in tragedy for all concerned,” the judge wrote. “Sheriff Deputy French was killed and two other officers were wounded.
“The violent behavior that resulted in the harm to these officers was egregious. The officers’ families, loved ones and community have suffered a terrible loss.”
But, the judge noted, there is no evidence that Nichole Littlecloud played any role in her son’s decision to skip bail and that she and her attorney “did more than simply cooperate with and respond to law enforcement inquiries.”
Instead, Illston noted, “they engaged in a proactive and extensive search to generate new information as to defendant’s whereabouts and sent this information to law enforcement.”
The efforts included Crane canvassing the Tenderloin and Castro areas of San Francisco looking for Littlecloud, and searches of social media that ultimately led the attorney to determine that Littlecloud might be at the Ramada Inn at Auburn Boulevard and Fulton Avenue where the shootout occurred. Her discovery came just before the gunbattle occurred.
“That her information did not ultimately lead to defendant’s apprehension appears to be due to ill-fated timing, rather than a lack of substance, reliability or effort,” the judge wrote. “It seems Ms. (Littlecloud) did everything possible in attempting to assist the government.”
Thomas Littlecloud’s parents adopted him as a deeply troubled 10-year-old from a Native American family in Tucson, Ariz., and said in court papers that they worked diligently in getting him an education and regularly took him to church. Despite those efforts, he ended up with a lengthy criminal record.
Nichole Littlecloud has said she believed her son’s love of his own 5-year-old son would have kept him from skipping out on bail, and she worried that losing her home would endanger that child as well as her husband, who is suffering from dementia.
Deputy French’s grown children have declined to say whether they believed the home should be forfeited.
The judge’s order can be appealed, and the court docket shows Faerstein requested a transcript of the last hearing, which may indicate the government is considering whether to contest the order.
But Crane said she believed overturning the judge’s order would be difficult.