STANISLAUS COUNTY — Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson was not available Monday to comment on a long-awaited the report about the murders of a deputy and a civilian during an April eviction that went horribly wrong.
The lengthy "critical incident review" answered many questions about gunman Jim Ferrario, the culture of the Sheriff's Department evictions unit and warnings that went unheeded. All shared a role in the deadly ambush of deputy Bob Paris and locksmith Glendon Engert, independent experts concluded.
Despite last-minute concerns raised by the county's top lawyer, the sheriff made good on a promise to unveil the report Friday night, along with another on the December 2011 death of crime scene technician Mary Donahou. On Monday the first business day after the release of both reports Christianson responded to questions on the Donahou investigation via email but did not return calls seeking answers on the 122-page Ferrario probe.
The shooting report, which cost up to $60,000 of public money, could become a central document in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought two weeks ago by Engert's widow, some legal experts said.
"When one party basically admits the plaintiff's case, sure, that could have a terrific effect," said Professor Mike Vitiello of the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law. "If their own document proves the defendant should have known of the risk, that's a kick in the shin for local government."
The lawsuit says Engert had no idea of the danger, while the department and its deputies did points repeatedly confirmed in the report.
For example, officers were warned that Ferrario had assault rifles, could monitor their approach with security cameras and might be violent, the document says, but apparently didn't share the information with Engert.
While Engert tried to drill the lock on a metal security gate, Ferrario fired from inside, killing the two men and touching off an 11-hour standoff that ended when the Chrysler Drive fourplex burned. Ferrario shot himself in a bathtub bunker, surrounded by 30 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
Co-workers told investigators that Paris sometimes was careless and didn't follow protocol during evictions. His supervising sergeant shared concerns with a lieutenant, but it went nowhere, the report says.
The nationally recognized investigators recommend that Christianson "direct a review to determine if the leadership, management, supervision and training strategies were insufficient to address Paris' performance." The sheriff did not respond Monday to phone messages to say how he'll proceed.
Nor could Christianson be asked about the investigators' 90 additional findings, many accompanied by recommendations. For example, department leaders "should frequently check their agency's pulse to ensure that the frequency of (tasks) does not permit complacency to develop," the authors suggest.
The report raises many other questions about training, body armor, a "procedural manual" apparently developed shortly before the tragedy, a statewide review of eviction procedures, whether recovering Paris' and Engert's bodies put other officers at risk, the use of a robot to search Ferrario's vehicle and to try to communicate with him during the standoff, and whether authorities delivered pizza as he requested during negotiations.
Francisco "Frank" Soria, president of the Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association, said Christianson contacted the union while the review was being conducted, asking leadership to "stand side by side" with him at its release. He must have changed his mind, said Soria, who got no warning before the department broadcast news of the unveiling in emails and social media Friday night.
"It was a slap in the face," said Soria, one of hundreds of officers who responded April 12 to see his friend "lying with a bullet in his head."
The report was prepared by nationally recognized Los Angeles and Huntington Beach police veterans Edward Deuel and Richard Wemmer. They said a multitude of red flags should have caused the department to reschedule the eviction and come up with a better plan.
Also, officers should have done a background check on Ferrario, who had had a felony conviction and figured in 14 police reports since 1997, the report says.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.