Sacramento County has resolved a wrongful death lawsuit by paying $80,000 to the father and widow of an Orangevale man who was fatally shot in his home by sheriff’s detectives.
Spokeswoman Kimberly Nava said last week that the county settled “to reduce possible future financial exposure.” The case was dismissed Oct. 25.
Dennis Dean Jr., 33, died on April 12, 2012, in a hail of gunfire from the weapons of three detectives who were executing a search warrant at his residence in the 9100 block of Kendrick Way as part of a drug investigation, according to federal court papers.
(Detectives) unleashed a flurry of gunfire on the handcuffed and kneeling (Dean), executing him by firing squad. There existed no legitimate law enforcement objective for this brutal murder.
Dennis Dean, Sr., and Amy Dean, in court complaint filed against Sacramento County
Dean had agreed to open a safe found behind a false wall in a closet, fortified with concrete or liquid nail and rebar, and secured with a biometric lock requiring Dean’s thumbprint.
Detectives Salvador Robles, Darryl Meadows and Randy Moya testified they had their weapons drawn and pointed at Dean, who was handcuffed and kneeling on the floor while opening the safe.
Suddenly, Dean pulled a gun from the safe and pointed it up at Robles’ face, they testified.
Robles, who was wedged in the closet and standing over Dean, swore he had made it clear to Dean he should not open the door of the safe, just unlock it, back out of the closet, and let the officers open the safe. But, he said, there was a click and Dean was reaching up to his face with a gun.
“I remember him just moving forward very quick, and it happened so fast,” Robles testified in a deposition. “Although I had the drop on him, he was able to point the gun at me. I remember just the forward motion and the door swinging. I mean, it was that quick.”
Moya pushed Dean forward, and Robles leaned down and shot him three times in the side, they testified.
“I pulled the trigger three times, and then I backed off,” he recalled. “But I continued to shoot ... I emptied my magazine into him.”
Meadows testified that, before Dean set about to open the safe, he told the detectives he was under the influence of methamphetamine, was feeling paranoid, and there was a gun in the safe. Meadows said he also told Dean not to open the door of the safe, just unlock it and back out of the closet. He said he stood behind Dean with his weapon drawn.
When Moya, who was also standing behind Dean with his weapon drawn, saw Dean with a gun, he put his foot on Dean’s back and pushed him forward, both Moya and Meadows testified. Meadows said he commenced shooting at Dean’s gun, then shifted his aim to Dean.
The officers stopped shooting when Dean stopped moving, but then he “began to move, raising the gun again,” according to a motion filed on behalf of the detectives. As they exited a bedroom where the closet was located, Moya saw Dean “reaching for the gun. Moya fired three rounds. As the officers retreated, Meadows resumed fire,” the motion says.
A SWAT team responded to the scene and a remote-controlled robot with cameras was deployed into the house to find Dean. The robot found him “lifeless in the bedroom, still holding the gun,” according to the detectives’ motion.
Officials initially reported that Dean Jr. shot a deputy in the hand. The deputy was hit by a ricochet of friendly fire, it was later discovered.
An autopsy documented 32 bullet wounds in Dean’s body. Postmortem toxicology tests were positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine and marijuana.
On the day of the incident, a sheriff’’s spokesman said the detectives shot Dean after he fired at them, striking one of them in the hand. A news release sent that night conveyed the same message.
Months later, in an interview with The Sacramento Bee, Sheriff Scott Jones acknowledged that Dean never fired a shot, and that the deputy’s hand was hit by ricochet of friendly fire.
Jones said in the interview it was an honest mistake, the result of trying to get information to the public when the scene was still evolving and the investigation only just beginning.
“We had real sketchy information – as we do in most dynamic cases,” he said. “This obviously was a very dynamic case.”
Jones said his department would have been forthright had the media followed up later when more definitive information was available.
Dean’s death occurred at a time when former District Attorney Jan Scully’s office was not reviewing officer-involved shootings because of budget cuts. Department spokesman Shelly Orio confirmed that the office did not investigate whether the officers who fired at Dean committed any crime.
The new district attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, has resumed reviews of officer-involved shootings. In Sacramento and across the country, such investigations rarely result in charges against officers.
The lawsuit cited the 14th Amendment, which forbids a state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and forbids a state from denying “to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Dean’s father, Dennis Dean Sr., and widow, Amy Dean, claimed they had been denied their constitutional rights to a familial relationship with Dean Jr. According to their court complaint, when the door of the safe swung open, one of the detectives yelled “gun” and the three “unleashed a flurry of gunfire on the handcuffed and kneeling (Dean), executing him by firing squad. There existed no legitimate law enforcement objective for this brutal murder.”
But attorneys for the detectives argued that withdrawing the gun from the safe and aiming it at Robles “created a risk of great bodily injury or death to the officers (and) their use of deadly force served a legitimate government interest.”
Attempts to reach members of the Dean family this week were unsuccessful.
The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert contributed to this report.