August 29, 2013

Locksmith was warned of Modesto eviction danger, court papers say

The owner of a Modesto home where a locksmith and deputy sheriff were murdered last year had alerted the locksmith to potential danger before the ambush, the owner contends in court papers.

The owner of a Modesto home where a locksmith and deputy sheriff were murdered last year had alerted the locksmith to potential danger before the ambush, the owner contends in court papers.

The claim contradicts a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by survivors of Glendon Engert against the property owner and Stanislaus County. The lawsuit states that the Sheriff's Department owed better protection to Engert during the attempted eviction.

Engert, 35, and deputy Bob Paris, 53, were felled in April 2012 by assault rifle bullets fired from inside as Engert attempted to disable a security door lock at a porch on Chrysler Drive. The shootings sparked a lengthy standoff with SWAT squads, ending in an inferno and gunman Jim Ferrario's suicide.

RT Financial Inc. had acquired the title to the fourplex unit in foreclosure, and company representative Roni Roberts hired Engert to help deputies get inside. His survivors' lawsuit says Roberts was tipped off to Ferrario posing a danger, but Roberts "did not convey the warnings or information about safety issues to Mr. Engert."

That's not true, say attorneys for Roberts, named individually as a defendant, and for RT Financial, in identical court briefs.

"In fact, Roni Roberts informed and warned Mr. Engert of said issues that morning," the documents say, adding that Engert "voluntarily accepted the risk."

In June, the county's attorneys also blamed Engert, saying he "acted in concert with (deputies) and knowingly and willingly consented to the conduct of (deputies) in total and utter disregard for the likelihood or probability that he might be injured."

Two investigations found fault with Paris and deputy Mike Glinskas, who was not shot, for failing to take proper precautions, given a wealth of specific warning signs, and Sheriff's Department officials for failing to address Paris' cavalier attitude. The investigations were cited in a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in Fresno.

Meanwhile, attorneys argued Thursday in Stanislaus County Superior Court whether the locksmith's parents, Ron and Anne Engert, can join their daughter-in-law, Irina Engert, in a related complaint alleging county negligence. The allegation is expected to merge with the larger case in Fresno.

The county wants the parents excluded because they signed onto the lawsuit four months after a legal deadline. Anne Engert said Modesto attorney Gerald Brunn had advised her that parents don't have legal standing to sue, but they later learned the question is not cut-and-dried, she said.

Judge William Mayhew in June ordered a deposition, or questioning under oath, for Brunn, who said he made Anne Engert aware of the deadline but did not agree to represent her and her husband, Sacramento attorney John Whitefleet noted Thursday.

Brunn's Oakland attorney, Lois Lindstrom, disputed Anne Engert's version in an email to The Bee Thursday, saying Brunn "never advised Mrs. Engert she had no standing." Attorney-client privilege prevented him from correcting the record for a previous article, before his deposition was recorded, Lindstrom said.

"He decided not to represent her based on the lack of information she had at the time of their meeting relating to the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department's alleged culpability," Lindstrom said.

San Francisco attorney Richard Schoenberger, representing all three Engerts, said Anne Engert "exercised almost heroic diligence" by consulting Brunn despite profound grief and by later taking action immediately upon learning that she and her husband might have a case after all.

Mayhew said he will rule shortly.

The decision won't affect the parents' standing, or the widow's, in the federal portion of the lawsuit, which alleges that the locksmith's civil rights were violated, resulting in his death.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or (209) 578-2390.

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