A federal jury found a San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy guilty of violating a man’s rights after fatally shooting him during a July 22, 2018, traffic stop.
The June 17 verdict orders the county to pay Juan Ramos’ family $4.5 million. Attorneys on both sides have not yet responded to requests for comment.
The stop and shooting
The family’s third amended complaint claimed San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Wheeler stopped Ramos in Highland at 4 p.m., July 22, 2018, after claiming to receive a dispatch regarding Ramos’ car.
Wheeler claimed he saw Ramos with a box cutter as he approached the vehicle.
Wheeler drew his gun, held Ramos at gunpoint and attempted to take the keys from Ramos through his car’s door, according to the complaint.
Ramos drove away, and stopped at a dead end after a car chase.
Wheeler broke Ramos’ window with a battering ram, and then Ramos drove the car forward and stepped outside.
Another sheriff’s deputy, Thun Houn, fired three beanbag rounds at Ramos, and another, Jason Calvert fired a taser.
The complaint claims neither deputy issued a warning before using force.
When Ramos ran away through an alley, Wheeler shot him, without a warning, according to the complaint.
Seconds later, Calvert hit Ramos with a second Taser.
The sheriff’s deputies did not call medical personnel to treat Ramos in time, the complaint claims. Ramos was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Family brings suit
Ramos’ mother, Ramona Terrazas, and his minor daughter, whose name was not provided in the lawsuit, sued Wheeler, the county, Houn and Calvert.
The mother and daughter brought five claims to trial:
- Excessive force, against the sheriff’s deputies
- Interference with familial relationship, against the sheriff’s deputies
- Battery, against all defendants
- Negligence, against all defendants
- Violation of the Bane Act, against all defendants
The plaintiffs had also brought claims of denial of medical care against the sheriff’s deputies, and municipal liability for both failure to train and unconstitutional custom or policy, against the county. They agreed to dismiss those claims prior to trial.
The original June 4, 2019, complaint was brought by seven members of Ramos’ family, including three cousins, his aunt and his uncle.
One deputy guilty
The jury found that Gary Wheeler used excessive force, violated the Bane Act, was negligent and interfered with the plaintiff’s right to a relationship with Ramos.
The jury did not find Houn guilty on any of those charges.
The county, in their response, had claimed Ramos was armed with a box cutter, claiming it was a deadly weapon, and refused to drop it. When Ramos ran away, he was a danger to others because of the box cutter, the county claimed.
The county also claimed Calvert did not know Wheeler’s bullet had hit Ramos when Calvert fired his taser.
California Central District Judge Jesus Bernal presided.
Case number 5:19-cv-01023.
Read the family’s third amended complaint here.
Read the county’s answer here.
Read the verdict here.