Suspected peeping Tom gets $150,000 after being shot by Modesto police

kvaline@modbee.comJanuary 11, 2014 

— Modesto has paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a suspected peeping Tom who was shot three times by an off-duty Modesto police detective in 2010.

The payout was among those the city made in the fourth quarter of last year – Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 – to settle lawsuits and claims against the city. The other big fourth-quarter payout also involved the police, with the city paying $100,000 to a driver whose car was struck by a plainclothes officer in an unmarked car.

Modesto paid Joshua Mordoff $150,000 to settle the lawsuit that attorney Lawrence Niermeyer filed on his behalf in 2011 in federal court alleging assault, battery, negligence and the violation of Mordoff’s civil rights.

Mordoff, 29, was shot late one night in May 2010 in a northeast Modesto neighborhood by off-duty Detective Jim Rokaitis. Police have said a father discovered Mordoff in the backyard of his home and near his teenage daughter’s window. As the father and Mordoff struggled, another family member summoned Rokaitis, who lives in the neighborhood.

Rokaitis told investigators he fired once after Mordoff ignored his order to get on the ground and stepped toward him. He fired the second and third times as Mordoff ignored his orders and again stepped forward.

Mordoff said Rokaitis did not identify himself as an officer and he did not threaten the detective. “He lied on a police report,” Mordoff said last week. “There’s no justice. I was shot and almost lost my life for a petty crime.”

Mordoff spent about a week in the hospital after the shooting. He pleaded no contest to the misdemeanors of disorderly conduct and peeking in the window of an occupied building, according to court records. Before the incident, Mordoff had four misdemeanor convictions for invading people’s privacy in a restroom with a camera, loitering in or near a restroom with the purpose of engaging in an illegal act and annoying a girl, according to court records.

Mordoff said he hopes the public will respect his and his family’s privacy and they won’t face any retaliation, as he says they did after he was shot. He said he has turned his life around. “Getting shot, it kind of made me learn,” he said, “made me change my life.”

Rokaitis, 51, retired after 21 years with the department. A family member said he would not comment.

In an email, Police Chief Galen Carroll said a review of the incident by the district attorney’s office and Police Department found the shooting to be justified. “This case caused a great deal of discussion and debate when deciding our course of action,” Carroll wrote. “Knowing his (Mordoff’s) past criminal history for the same crimes may not be disclosed to a jury at trail, as distasteful as it was for everyone involved, it was cheaper for the city to agree to a settlement rather than take the case to trial.”

The city provided the payout information in response to a California Public Records Act request filed by The Modesto Bee. The other large fourth-quarter payout was $100,000 to a driver whose Nissan Sentra was struck in September 2012 by a plainclothes officer driving an unmarked car without lights or sirens.

Modesto resident Nina Ruiz was turning left onto Roselle Avenue. Her lawsuit states that officer Doug Ridenour was traveling about 72 mph when his Pontiac hit her vehicle. A witness has said investigators said Ridenour was on his way to an in-progress burglary call when he struck the other car in the residential neighborhood.

Modesto paid out more than $333,000 to settle lawsuits and claims in the fourth quarter, but three of them accounted for $300,000 of the payouts. Two were for the police claims and the third was for $50,000 to a golfer who slipped and broke bones in his hand and wrist at Dryden Municipal Golf Course.

The city paid about $643,000 to settle claims and lawsuits in 2013, with $450,000 of that for four actions filed against the police.

Besides the two fourth-quarter payouts, the city made two first-quarter payouts involving the police: $80,000 to a couple involved in a traffic accident with an officer and $120,000 to a family after officers entered their home over a civil dispute and refused to leave.

Modesto Risk Manager Mary Akin said last year’s $450,000 in police payouts is highly unusual based on her 10 years as the city’s risk manager. She said police payouts typically are much lower. She added the incidents that led to these claims occurred over several years.

But Akin was pleased that the total payouts were just over $600,000.

“In the last several years,” she said, “the claims have been less than $1 million per year, which is not bad for a city our size.”

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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