A federal jury took less than than two hours Wednesday to award $6.5 million to the family of Johnathan Rose, a schizophrenic man shot and killed in his home by a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy who’d been called by Rose’s parents to help their agitated son.
Rose’s father, Ted Rose – who had said he could feel the bullets enter his son’s body as he tried to restrain him – filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Deputy David McEntire and Sacramento County but died last week on the eve of his scheduled testimony in the case.
Other family members at Sacramento’s federal courthouse Wednesday praised the jury’s verdict.
“Justice and truth prevailed today. We hope what happened to my brother will never happen to another family,” said an emotional Ted Rose Jr., Johnathan’s brother. “They characterized my brother as a psycho. They dehumanized him. He was a good man.”
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Johnathan Rose was shot on the night of Jan. 17, 2012, in his family’s North Highlands home by McEntire, a deputy since 2003 who had recently returned to patrol after a stint at Sacramento County Main Jail.
McEntire had answered a 911 call from the home after an angry Rose acted out. Rose was unarmed and was not under arrest, but McEntire said he was forced to kill Rose, in what his attorney called a “fight for his life,” after absorbing a torrent of blows from the 261-pound man.
Jurors rejected that claim, however, and by midafternoon Wednesday they had returned their decision.
“An unarmed, mentally ill young man was killed in his home for no reason,” said attorney Dale Galipo, who with Sacramento attorney Stewart Katz represented the Rose family. Galipo called the decision one “that could save lives.”
“Human life has value,” the lawyer said. “That’s one of the themes of this case, and the jury agreed. This is a wake-up call to law enforcement that people won’t tolerate this behavior.”
The defendants’ attorney, Van Longyear, was not immediately available for comment after the verdict.
During Wednesday’s closing arguments and in nearly two weeks of testimony before U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley, jurors heard vastly different versions of the two men at the center of the case.
Longyear argued that McEntire was a “cop’s cop,” who was subjected to a “relentless, aggressive terrifying attack” at the hands of an enraged paranoid schizophrenic and only used deadly force to save his own life.
Johnathan Rose’s family members were “petrified of him,” the attorney told jurors. “They were so petrified they called the cops to stand between them and Johnny, who was a ticking time bomb…You call the cops on your own family member? How bad did it have to be?”
Galipo contended the deputy was the aggressor who fatally escalated a situation that, as McEntire had testified, seemed under control when he arrived at the Rose’s home.
“He’s supposed to show reverence for life. He killed that kid,” Galipo said. “Overreaction is excessive force and, at a minimum, he overreacted.”
Rose’s family members said they called 911 to have Johnathan taken in for a mental-health evaluation after a day in which he’d grown increasingly angry and agitated.
Johnathan shoved his father, argued with his older brother and hurled his fast-food dinner against a wall, relatives testified. But by the time McEntire arrived, Johnathan had taken his medication, had calmed down and was sleeping, they said.
Within minutes of knocking on the family’s door, the 250-pound McEntire had crashed a flashlight across Rose’s head, sent Johnathan into the dining room wall, and finally, in a close-range grapple atop a mattress, fired the three shots that killed Rose, witnesses testified.
McEntire took the witness stand twice, offering dramatic testimony of a welfare call turned violent brawl. He said he was pinned to the mattress, with an out-of-control Rose raining blows, while Rose’s infirm father tried in vain to pull his son away.
“When I pulled the trigger, I felt like I was going to lose consciousness and thought I was going to die. I pulled the trigger to save my life and stop the attack,” McEntire said.
Longyear cautioned jurors to give McEntire the benefit of having to face down danger and make split-second life-and-death decisions.
“You know how the story ends. Deputy McEntire didn’t,” the attorney said
Rose attorney Galipo hammered away at McEntire’s story in an intense cross-examination Tuesday and again in his Wednesday summation, pointing to images of McEntire in the minutes after the incident, his face relatively free of cuts or bruises.
“He was not about to be killed,” Galipo said. “It’s that simple. This is a terrible shooting. This is as bad as a shooting can get.”
The swift multimillion dollar judgment was the latest against Sacramento County for the actions of members of its sheriff’s department.
A little over a year ago, a Sacramento Superior Court judge affirmed a jury’s $3.6 million award to female deputies who sued the department for workplace retaliation after a six-year legal fight. With $5.3 million in attorneys fees added, the total cost to the county rose to more than $10 million.
Johnathan Rose’s mother, Karen, lost her son five years ago and her husband last week. On Wednesday she held back tears as she talked about her family’s journey.
“It’s been a long time of preserving and holding onto hope that there would be justice,” she said. “Today’s the day.”