The Public Eye

Pastor: I held my son while Sacramento deputy shot him to death

Video: Family called Sacramento sheriff for help, and deputy killed their son

Sheriff's Deputy David McEntire has been sued three times for allegedly using excessive force, including the case where he shot a young mentally ill man to death. The officer has also faced at least a half dozen internal affairs complaints.
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Sheriff's Deputy David McEntire has been sued three times for allegedly using excessive force, including the case where he shot a young mentally ill man to death. The officer has also faced at least a half dozen internal affairs complaints.

One moment stands out for Ted Rose about the night his son was shot to death by Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy David McEntire.

Rose, 54, recalls holding his mentally ill son Johnathan tightly in his arms on Jan. 17, 2012, trying to defuse a confrontation in the living room of their Sacramento home, when the deputy opened fire.

“I actually felt the bullets riddle through my boy’s body,” said Rose, a pastor at a south Sacramento church. “It’s the most horrible thing.”

Today, the Rose family is suing the Sheriff’s Department and McEntire over what they contend was the unprovoked and unnecessary shooting of an unarmed 24-year-old schizophrenic who was asleep when McEntire first entered their home.

Over the course of developing evidence for the lawsuit, the family’s lawyer said he discovered that McEntire has faced at least a half-dozen internal affairs complaints during his 12 years as a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy.

“Deputy McEntire is the only deputy still employed with Sacramento County who has been the subject of six or more excessive force complaints since 2008,” Rose’s attorney, Stewart Katz, wrote in court papers filed in support of the family’s civil rights suit.

“He’s a habitual, serial excessive-force abuser,” Rose said in a recent interview, noting that his lawsuit is one of three McEntire has faced for allegedly using excessive force.

McEntire is currently assigned as a problem-oriented policing officer in the department’s North Area. He did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Deputy Tony Turnbull, a spokesman for the department, said he could not comment on pending litigation or on personnel matters. But he noted that all complaints against deputies – whether made by citizens or filed internally – are investigated.

“All use-of-force complaints are investigated by our professional standards bureau,” Turnbull said. “They’re all taken seriously, and they’re all investigated to their totality.”

In court documents, the county disputes claims in the Rose lawsuit, including whether McEntire has been accused of excessive force half a dozen times. The county says McEntire “estimates he has had more than five internal affairs complaints,” but that does not necessarily mean they were all excessive-force cases.

“There is no evidence that the complaints were not properly investigated and/or that the disposition of the complaints was in some way deficient,” the county states in court documents. “Officers are dispatched to calls and have little control over the demeanor, sobriety and/or hostility toward law enforcement of the subject or the subjects of the call.”

The county – as well as McEntire in a sworn statement – contends the deputy was fighting for his life inside the Rose home.

“When McEntire responded to the 911 call, Johnathan attacked McEntire so ferociously that McEntire was forced to shoot him in self-defense,” lawyers for the county wrote in court papers. The county asserts that Rose was not asleep when McEntire arrived. “As soon as Deputy McEntire stepped into the home, he was verbally challenged by Decedent,” county lawyers wrote.

Internal affairs documents regarding McEntire that have been filed in court show the deputy has received five “letters of recognition,” that he exceeded standards in recent evaluations, and that there have been only two instances in which complaints about him were “sustained” by the department, meaning evidence shows they were likely true.

But amid an ongoing national debate over police use of force, there is a new focus on how law enforcement officers interact with suspects. A lawsuit was filed last month against another Sacramento County deputy with a history of excessive force complaints.

In 2012, after Johnathan Rose’s shooting, the Sheriff’s Department was under scrutiny for a series of shootings that the Sacramento County grand jury labeled as “unusually high in its 2012-13 final report.

In the first eight months of 2012, deputies were involved in 13 shootings, eight of which led to deaths of a citizen, including Rose, the grand jury found.

The shooting totals were more than double those for each of the previous three years, and prompted the department to create a new protocol for reviewing deputy-involved shootings. That included consolidating reviews under a single command and creating a review board to study trends and areas for improvement in training.

Jail beating alleged

The number of excessive-force complaints received by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department varies from year to year. So far this year, the department has investigated 23 complaints, one of which came from inside the department itself. Just three of these were sustained, a finding that can trigger consequences ranging from written reprimand to counseling to termination.

The Sheriff’s Department noted that the fact someone lodges an excessive-force complaint against a deputy does not necessarily mean the complaint is valid, and that its 1,400 sworn deputies have face-to-face encounters with citizens more than 400,000 times a year.

Sheriff Scott Jones testified in the Rose case that he was unaware of the number of complaints of excessive force that have been lodged against McEntire.

“I would say the overall majority of our officers probably don’t have any complaints throughout their history,” Jones said in a videotaped deposition Aug. 11, 2014, when he was questioned by Katz.

“There are some that have probably more than their fair share, whether sustained or not sustained, maybe by virtue of the assignment that they hold or the duties that they perform,” Jones said, according to a transcript of the deposition filed in court documents. “There are a number of people with large, larger numbers of, of complaints.”

The first lawsuit filed against McEntire, 35, came when he was relatively new to the department and working at the Main Jail in downtown Sacramento.

That case, which concluded with Sacramento County paying $50,000 to the plaintiff, stemmed from the arrest of a Sacramento State football player following the Causeway Classic rivalry game with UC Davis in 2006.

Blaine A. Jackson, then 21 and a starting defensive end, was arrested after a noise complaint at a postgame party and charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest. After being taken to jail for booking, Jackson alleged in his lawsuit, a group of deputies that included McEntire beat him in an incident that was partially captured on jailhouse video cameras.

Two sheriff’s incident reports filed in the court case say Jackson became violent and had to be subdued. The incident reports alternately state that McEntire punched Jackson three times in the face with his fist or struck him three times with an open palm. No explanation is given for the disparity in accounts.

Jackson ended up being placed in a department Pro-Straint chair, a device to subdue unruly prisoners that is no longer used by the department following a series of lawsuits. A jailhouse video shows the college student being wheeled down a hallway with a bloodstained hood over his head.

In his lawsuit, Jackson claimed the incident left him with a facial cut that required seven stitches and nerve damage to one wrist. He was released from jail, and no charges were filed against him.

Internal sheriff’s review documents of McEntire’s history with the department show that since the incident with Jackson, the deputy has been the subject of complaints several more times, although the precise nature of the allegations is not divulged.

The documents, marked confidential but filed as exhibits in the Rose lawsuit, indicate that the department found the complaints against McEntire sustained in two instances.

‘Neglect of duty’

One of the complaints that was sustained involved a 2008 incident that earned McEntire a letter of reprimand for “discourteous treatment” and conduct unbecoming an officer. The other involved a complaint about a traffic stop that resulted in his being cited for discourteous treatment and “inexcusable neglect of duty.”

The latter incident, which centered on a traffic citation issued at a North Highlands Walgreens store, also resulted in a lawsuit, the third civil lawsuit he has faced alleging excessive force.

Ten months after Rose was shot to death, Amir Ekunwe of Roseville said he was sitting in his newly purchased van with a friend, eating snacks they had purchased at the store in the early morning hours. Ekunwe, who filed the lawsuit himself, claims McEntire erupted after he made a joke about doughnuts to the deputy, then refused to sign a traffic citation that McEntire wrote over the van not having valid vehicle registration. Ekunwe said he had not had time to take care of the registration because he had just bought the van.

Ekunwe, 29, said in an interview at his Roseville home this month that he asked McEntire if he could sign the citation “refused” rather than with his name. McEntire responded by putting him in a shoulder lock, throwing him to the parking lot pavement and telling him to blink if he understood what McEntire was telling him, Ekunwe said.

“Ekunwe stated at this point he was in fear of further force and complied,” the internal sheriff’s documents state. “Deputy McEntire asked two questions related to Ekunwe signing the citation.

“Ekunwe stated he blinked in the affirmative and was released from the hold and allowed to sign the citation.”

The department’s review of the incident found McEntire’s use of force was “reasonable” because Ekunwe was physically pulling away from the deputy.

The review also found fault with McEntire’s actions that night, saying he “failed to demonstrate adequate concern for his duties” and that he “had to use what would be considered by the average law enforcement professional as extraordinary force to get Ekunwe to sign his citation.”

In addition, the review found fault with McEntire for not reporting the incident to a supervisor and for not arresting Ekunwe at the scene, which “assured extra work for our department, the court system” and others because Ekunwe did not appear in court on the ticket.

Ekunwe was cited Nov. 1, 2013, for resisting arrest, Sacramento Superior Court records show.

He also was notified that part of his complaint about McEntire's conduct was sustained. His complaint resulted in a recommendation that a letter of reprimand be placed in McEntire's file.

Ekunwe, in his interview with The Sacramento Bee, said he was very careful in dealing with the deputy not to provoke him. “If I had been a little more angry or acting out I would have been shot,” Ekunwe said.

“I’m no angel; I’m not perfect,” he added. “But what happened that night was completely incorrect. It shouldn’t have happened.”

There apparently is no video footage to determine what actually happened that night. Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies do not wear body cameras, and McEntire told internal affairs he did not activate his dash camera because he thought he was responding to a call about someone sleeping in a vehicle rather than a crime.

Ekunwe, whose pending lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages of more than $150,000, has asked the federal court to help him retrieve Walgreens security video from that night, but the internal sheriff’s documents state that the video “had long been purged by the time the complaint was made.”

‘Reasonable mitigation’

There also is no video of the night Johnathan Rose was shot to death. The incident occurred inside the family’s North Highlands home after Ted Rose called 911 asking for help in dealing with his son.

Johnathan Rose had a history of mental illness and had been visited by law enforcement before. He once was placed on a 14-day psychiatric hold after a call in Placer County, where his family previously lived.

Ted Rose said his son was acting agitated and would not eat or take his medication the night he called 911. Nobody showed up for about 45 minutes, he said, and Johnathan Rose finally went to sleep on a mattress on the floor.

He was still sleeping when McEntire showed up at the door, asked “Where is he?” and moved toward the young man on the mattress, according to the Rose lawsuit. Rose awoke, stood, faced a wall with his hands behind his back and waited to be handcuffed, but McEntire ordered him to the floor, the lawsuit states.

Rose suffered from a compulsive disorder that made him phobic about germs and dirt, according to the suit. He started to get on the floor, but then stood back up and said, “I can’t, just arrest me,” the suit states.

In response, McEntire slammed Rose into the wall, breaking a hole in it, then hit Rose across the top of his head with his department-issued flashlight, the suit states. The two grappled and fell onto the mattress and Johnathan Rose tried punching the deputy “in a desperate attempt to stop the attack,” the lawsuit states.

Ted Rose tried to intervene, grabbing his son, pulling him down and yelling “Stop, he’s going to hurt you,” according to the lawsuit. “Then, without warning, Deputy McEntire fired three shots in rapid succession into Johnathan while Ted Rose held his son,” the lawsuit states.

Ted Rose told The Bee he asked McEntire repeatedly why he had shot him, and the deputy replied, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Rose said he was in shock for months after his son’s death. He eventually met with Jones to talk about how the department handles calls for help with mentally ill citizens.

“Scott was pretty compassionate, he was courteous throughout and seemed caring, but he was wearing his hat of ‘I’ve got to protect my department,’ ” Rose said.

Rose and his wife, Dee, filed suit in July 2013 with Katz and Moseley Collins III as their attorneys.

Internal sheriff’s documents filed in the lawsuit said McEntire told internal affairs investigators that he “shot Rose to stop a threat to his life.”

“I started receiving strikes to my face …” McEntire is quoted as saying. “I was starting to recognize signs of going unconscious. … I was going to loose (sic) consciousness and possibly die or I was going to have to use force. …

“I fired two rounds right away and then about a half second later fired a third round and the subject stopped fighting.”

The department’s internal investigation closed with the determination that McEntire acted with “reasonable mitigation.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story about excessive force allegations against a Sacramento County sheriff's deputy incorrectly stated when one of the plaintiffs, Amir Ekunwe, was cited on a charge of resisting an officer. According to Sacramento Superior Court records, he was cited Nov. 1, 2013.