MODESTO — Authorities should have done more to protect a locksmith from a distraught, armed homeowner who gunned down the man and a deputy sheriff, the locksmith's widow says in a wrongful death claim against Stanislaus County.
Before they tried to carry out the April eviction, deputies were warned that the homeowner had weapons, the claim says, contradicting Sheriff Adam Christianson's statements since that the men walked into an ambush with no idea that danger lurked inside.
Also, locksmith Glendon Engert paused while disabling the lock on a metal security door when he heard something inside, but deputies directed him to keep drilling, the claim says.
"Mr. Engert was lulled into a false sense of security," the document reads.
Moments later, Engert, 35, and deputy Bob Paris, 53, were killed by armor-piercing bullets from an assault rifle fired through the screen door. Deputy Mike Glinskas, 51, was not hit and was honored for bravery last month.
The shooting deaths started an 11-hour standoff that ended as flames engulfed the Chrysler Drive fourplex. The body of Jim Richard Ferrario, who committed suicide, was found inside with an arsenal of weapons.
The deputies "owed (Engert) a duty to protect him," says the claim, filed Aug. 24 by San Francisco lawyers on behalf of Irina Engert and made public by the county Monday.
"It's unspeakably sad," said attorney Richard Schoenberger. "She remains devastated. Glendon was her life."
Said Christianson on Monday: "Our hearts ache for her. It's a tragedy. But right now, she's represented by counsel, and it's not appropriate for us to discuss it."
Paul Tunison, a former Modesto City Council candidate and owner of Patriot Eviction Service, told The Bee for a story published April 15 that neighbors spoke of Ferrario's weapons perhaps an assault gun and hand grenade. The story noted that Tunison "conveyed a warning to the deputies who would serve Ferrario," and the article is cited in Irina Engert's claim.
Tunison stood by that statement Monday.
Glendon Engert had "expressed reluctance to Irina Engert" about working on doors with someone inside, and was nervous about that particular job the night before, the claim says.
"Why would he be worried if they did not know there was a risk?" Tunison said Monday.
Ferrario's front door appeared to be open, but the "thick metallic screen door" kept them from seeing inside, the claim says. Engert stopped drilling when he heard something inside and paused while the officers looked at Ferrario's outdoor security cameras.
Servers visited at least 20 times
An unnamed witness said Glinskas "tapped on a side window, presumably with a night stick," the claim says.
"After this brief inspection, the deputy sheriffs instructed Mr. Engert to continue drilling the lock," the claim reads, and fatal shots rang out moments later.
Glinskas told The Bee in early August that he was looking for a side entrance when shooting erupted. He dropped and returned fire and was not injured by Ferrario, but hurt his hip in the fall and has been on disability.
Neighbors told The Bee that Ferrario seemed paranoid, poor and sometimes confrontational, and lived without electricity or hot water. The home was lost to foreclosure, leading to the April 12 eviction; Tunison has said he and other process servers visited Ferrario's home at least 20 times.
"Precious few houses in the area have surveillance cameras," Schoen- berger said. "Given the problems people were having evicting him, you would think that would cause a reasonable person to question what was inside."
But the deputies failed "to see if Mr. Ferrario was home," to "secure the scene" before having Engert start his work or to ensure that the eviction could proceed safely, the document says.
In legal terms, the deputies "created a special relationship with Mr. Engert through a promise, either express or implied, that it would be safe for him to drill the lock," the claim reads. "Mr. Engert relied on this promise to his detriment."
Ferrario was a former security guard with no criminal record. He inherited rifles and legally acquired handguns, the sheriff said later.
"There was no indication of prior involvement with law enforcement that would have changed our level of awareness," Christianson told The Bee in mid-May.
Incident review delayed
The sheriff in June commissioned a "critical incident review" expected to cost $40,000 to $60,000. Consultants are analyzing the Chrysler Drive killings as well as the death of crime scene technician Mary Donahou, who was struck by a car Dec. 30 while investigating a shooting in Hughson.
Monday, Christianson said the report has been delayed because the California Highway Patrol has not completed an evaluation of the Hughson accident.
"I asked them to do both because I don't want anybody to think one is more important than the other," Christianson said. "I made a commitment to release (it) publicly and it's coming, but it's not done yet. It's comprehensive, detailed and thorough and will answer a lot of questions."
Schoenberger said he will rely on depositions rather than the sheriff's report.
"I would love it to shed light so long as that light is truthful and real," the attorney said. "I'm probably naturally a little cynical. But I think people want to find out what happened. Given the nature of this tragedy, that desire often trumps the desire of a public entity to protect its pocketbook."
The county has not complied with Schoenberger's public records requests to obtain a copy of the department's incident report, he said. The claim lists Glinskas and Tunison as potential witnesses, as well as eight neighbors and eight other people.
In a May letter to the editor of The Bee, Irina Engert expressed gratitude for people who reached out to her and cited "the kind support of the Sheriff's and Police departments."
The couple's friends had told The Bee that they married 13 years before and had no children. She had come to the Modesto area as an exchange student from Russia, they said.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.