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Seven years after Clemente Najera-Aguirre was fatally shot by Riverside Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Ponder, his family won a $10 million verdict against the county.

Ponder shot Nejera-Aguirre near Heald Avenue in Lake Elsinore on April 15, 2016, according to the federal complaint filed by his family.

“We respect the legal process. In light of the substantial evidence presented that the deputy was acting in lawful self-defense against an individual armed with multiple weapons and advancing on the deputy, we are disappointed by the decision,” Riverside County Spokesperson Brooke Federico wrote by email.

Ponder is currently employed as a sergeant with the department.

Follow Our Courts reached out to the family’s lawyer, Christian Pereira of Long Beach’s Pereira Law, for comment, but there has not yet been a response.

The April 26 jury verdict found that Ponder used excessive force, but also found that his conduct was not malicious, oppressive or in reckless disregard of Najera’s rights.

The complaint originally brought claims for deprivation of civil rights, municipal liability and due process violations.

The case went up to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2022, after the county appealed the denial of qualified immunity to Ponder. 

Ponder had responded to reports that someone in Lake Elsinore was destroying property with a bat, and had threatened a woman who had a baby, the ruling said.

Ponder had come across Najera, who had a stick. Najera did not drop his stick when directed to. Ponder tried to pepper spray Najera, but the spray flew back in his own face. 

Witness testimony conflicted. According to some witnesses, Najera approached Ponder with a bat raised, but according to others, Najera stood still with a stick pointed down. Najera was 15 feet away when he was shot. Ponder said Najera faced him during the shooting, but a coroner’s report found that Najera died from two shots to his back, the ruling said.

Case No. 5:18-cv-00762

California Central District Judge Dolly Gee presided

Alexander Rynerson, Tori Bakken and Anthony Sain of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard and Smith represented the county.

Dale Galipo and Hang Le of the Woodland Hills Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo, and Ian Cuthbertson of Long Beach’s Briana Kim, represented Najera’s family along with Pereira.

Read the complaint here.

Read the verdict here.

Read the appellate ruling here.

Read our previous coverage here: Sheriff’s sergeant’s immunity defense thrown out in appeal in fatal Lake Elsinore OIS case

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