MODESTO — Changes to a lawsuit stemming from last year's high-profile murders of a locksmith and a sheriff's deputy place much blame on the deputy for his "cavalier attitude toward safety."
The document cites a former "culture of complacency" in the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department's evictions unit, with "rules and procedures regularly flouted," resulting in locksmith Glendon Engert's death.
The amended civil rights lawsuit accuses the Sheriff's Department of failing to learn lessons from past evictions that turned deadly, including the 2010 slaying of a tenant at the hands of former sheriff's detective Kari Abbey.
A new version of the Engert lawsuit also targets the estate of deputy Robert Paris, who was killed in the April 12, 2012, ambush in Modesto, and names his parents because they control his estate.
Also, Engert's parents have joined his widow as plaintiffs, hoping "to expose the wrongdoing that led to his death, and to seek necessary changes in the policies, training and practices of the Sheriff's Department."
A status conference in federal court in Fresno was postponed from Wednesday to mid-July.
"It's a tragedy that Mr. (Jim) Ferrario murdered both our police officer and Mr. Engert. There is no getting around that," County Counsel John Doering said Wednesday.
The locksmith's widow, Irina Engert, had sued in January, relying heavily on a Modesto police investigation of the ambush at the fourplex where Ferrario lived, which sparked a lengthy standoff that ended in an inferno and with the gunman committing suicide.
Changes in the lawsuit also reflect another independent probe commissioned by the Sheriff's Department and made public in February.
Experts concluded that Paris and his partner, Deputy Mike Glinskas, who was not shot, should not have attempted to evict the distraught homeowner, given a wealth of warning signs. They included specific information about Ferrario's mental instability, threats to neighbors, criminal record and military-grade weapons.
Paris responded to warnings "with nothing more than a single word of utter disregard: 'Whatever,' " the amended lawsuit notes, citing the independent review that quoted Paris as saying that the day before he was killed.
His co-workers and supervisors "reported concerns with deputy Paris' disrespect and negativity about safety," the lawsuit says, but managers did nothing and department conflicts were allowed to fester.
"In the independent review, it became clear that deputy Paris played a significant role," said Richard Schoenberger, the Engerts' San Francisco attorney.
Administrators "disregarded overwhelming evidence" of problems in the department, the lawsuit says, and failure to discipline those in charge after the ambush amounts to "wrongful exoneration."
The document notes a 2001 eviction attempted by other deputies that resulted in a landlord injured by gunfire and tenants setting the home ablaze and perishing in the flames. "It is apparent that the lessons from that incident unfortunately were lost on the department," the lawsuit says, further citing Abbey's September 2010 slaying of Rita Elias.
Murder and manslaughter charges were dismissed after a preliminary hearing; Abbey continues to face felony counts of embezzling from the Sheriff's Department, cultivating marijuana, conspiracy to commit unlawful evictions and child endangerment.
A sheriff's clerk who tried to warn Paris and Glinskas was dropped from the new Engert complaint, while Lt. Cliff Harper was added. Paris' supervisor, Sgt. Manuel Martinez who has since retired and is a defendant accompanied Paris in up to 60 evictions and reported his "performance deficiencies" to Harper, but "no action plan was developed to improve Paris' performance," the lawsuit says.
The deputies might have deduced Ferrario was inside before directing Engert to try to disable a security door lock, the lawsuit says, because Ferrario's vehicle was parked on the street "in plain sight right in front of his residence, but the deputies were ignorant of this simple yet critical fact."
Ferrario did not answer knocks at the door and fired an assault rifle from within as Engert drilled the lock, killing him and Paris.
Engert's survivors have no wish "in any way to attempt to empty deputy Paris' estate," Schoenberger said. Naming his estate in the lawsuit, the attorney said, allows the county to "provide compensation in behalf of the estate" if the Engerts prevail in court.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.