It cost Modesto nearly $1 million to resolve a lawsuit that claims its officers entered an elderly woman’s home without permission or a warrant.
Patricia Mugrauer and her adult son, Wade, sued Modesto in federal court in April 2016 over a January 2015 incident in which officers entered her home to resolve a landlord-tenant dispute. (Mugrauer had been renting out a room.) Officer John C. Lee — who was at least twice as big as Mugrauer — pushed the front door open while pushing her out of the way, causing her to fall and break her hip.
The Bee has reported that Patricia Mugrauer resolved her part of the lawsuit against the city in January for $745,651. She died a week later at 69. One of her attorneys has said the money will go to her estate. Wade Mugrauer later resolved his part of the lawsuit for $60,000.
And Modesto agreed to pay the Mugrauers’ attorneys — Sanjay Schmidt of San Francisco and Panos Lagos of Oakland — $67,000 for their fees and costs. City Attorney Adam Lindgren said it cost Modesto $118,129 to defend itself.
That brings Modesto’s total cost to $990,780. The city is responsible for the entire amount, said Bev Jensen, the city’s risk manager.
Schmidt said in an email Modesto has paid the amounts due to his clients, himself and Lagos. The case was dismissed in federal court in Fresno on May 19.
“There was no evidence that the officers acted out of any animus toward the Mugrauers but rather were making an earnest attempt to peacefully address the private dispute confronting them,” Lindgren said. “The officers’ contact with Miss Mugrauer did expose the city to liability because the officers did not have a warrant to be in Miss Mugrauer’s home and that in turn may have resulted in significant liability for the city due to Miss Mugrauer’s substantial medical expenses and related damages.”
Officers entered Patricia Mugrauer’s east Modesto home to help a young woman who had been renting a room with her boyfriend from Mugrauer retrieve her possessions after the couple split up. Mugrauer politely asked officers to wait for the boyfriend — who would be home soon — so there would be no misunderstandings about the possessions.
“The police tactics were misguided,” Schmidt said in a previous Bee story, “and we hope that the MPD and other departments will train officers in the future regarding what they are, and are not, permitted to do in such situations. ... Through their words and actions, the (officers) abandoned neutrality and transformed the encounter into a ‘curbside courtroom,’ during which my clients’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated.”
The Mugrauers claimed in their lawsuit that their rights to free speech and freedom from unlawful search and unreasonable force were violated. It also alleged disability discrimination, assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, and failure to summon medical care.
Lindgren said Modesto’s cost to defend itself was higher because it includes fees for experts, and the Mugrauers’ attorneys could only collect fees and costs for their work up to the time their clients each agreed to resolve their parts of the lawsuit, while the attorneys for the city continued their work.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316