Stanislaus County lawyers, who have been seeking mental health records of a locksmith killed alongside a deputy sheriff, now want to know if the locksmith or his wife were infertile or used birth control, whether she was mentally ill and whether the childless couple received marriage counseling.
Glendon Engert, 35, was ambushed in April 2012 while attempting to disable a security door lock at a porch on Modesto’s Chrysler Drive as authorities served an eviction. He and Deputy Bob Paris, 53, were felled by assault rifle bullets fired from inside, sparking a lengthy standoff that ended in an inferno and gunman Jim Ferrario’s suicide.
Engert’s widow and parents brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, saying the Sheriff’s Department failed to take proper precautions. Two investigations found that the department was aware of the shooter’s instability and his possession of military grade weapons.
The locksmith’s widow, Irina Engert, testified for hours in an Aug. 7 pretrial deposition but apparently refused to answer some questions. She contended they were out of bounds “based on privacy and the psychotherapist-patient privilege,” says a notice filed Wednesday by a Sacramento law firm hired to defend the county.
The motion asks a judge to compel Irina Engert to say whether:
• “(She) utilized birth control to prevent pregnancy” during the 13 years they were married.
• “(She) is able to have children.”
• “Glendon Engert was able to give her children while he was alive.”
• “(She) was under the care of a psychotherapist for mental illness or other psychiatric condition” and “what the nature of her diagnosis was and types of treatment she received.”
• “(They) received marital counseling at any point for marital issues through a mental health professional or other type of counselor.”
Professor Mike Vitiello of the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law said such questions “may be fair game” if they help to determine the value of Irina Engert’s loss.
A judge in federal court in Fresno had been scheduled to hear arguments Friday on whether he should force Modesto psychiatrist Stewart Quisling to turn over Glendon Engert’s records. That hearing was postponed until Oct. 3 and will encompass the additional requests, court documents say; a trial is scheduled for August.
Defense attorney Kirk McAllister, who has worked on some of Modesto’s highest-profile cases but has no connection to this one, said it appears that county lawyers are hoping to leave no stone unturned.
“There is a time-honored theory that the best defense is a good offense,” said McAllister, who wrote a courtroom guide for criminal trials. “Trying to find some dirt on the deceased may be the gameplan the county’s pursuing.
“You could certainly make the argument that the mental makeup of the person doing the shooting was relevant, but getting into extraneous and deeply personal matters may be a way of trying to intimidate,” he added.
The lawsuit says Engert paused while disabling the lock because he heard sounds from inside the fourplex; rather than having him retreat, deputies directed him to continue drilling the lock, and shots rang out seconds later, the document says.
People are sorely mistaken if they think government agencies open a checkbook when sued, said McAllister, who opposed county attorneys in another civil rights matter.
“They fight tooth and nail,” McAllister said. “But there’s fighting above the belt and there’s fighting below the belt, and this sounds like it’s below. From what I know, the person’s mental state, when he’s simply on the other side of a door that’s suddenly splintered with bullets, isn’t really relevant.”