An amended lawsuit against Stanislaus County in the shooting of a Modesto woman last year by a sheriff's deputy says her death was the result of "complete defiance and contradiction of vitally important policies, procedures and accepted training protocol."
The wrongful-death suit was filed Tuesday with the San Joaquin County Superior Court on behalf of the husband and son of Evin Olsen Yadegar, who was shot in Ripon after a law-enforcement pursuit that began in Salida. The shooting occurred early Feb. 26, 2017, during a traffic stop in the Tornell Circle area.
Authorities say Yadegar, 46, was shot by Deputy Justin Wall — also named as a defendant — after she did not respond to commands to exit the vehicle and then put it in reverse, driving toward two deputies and a Ripon police officer.
Yadegar and her husband, Hanibal Yadegar, co-owned the popular Barkin’ Dog eatery in downtown Modesto.
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In the amended complaint, Stockton attorney Stewart Tabak says the "violent killing" of Yadegar could have been prevented had law enforcement at the traffic-stop scene adhered to POST (peace officer standards and training) regulations. Tabek said he is working to add the city of Ripon as a defendant because its police officers, as well as Stanislaus sheriff's deputies, failed to follow appropriate steps.
When officers make a traffic stop, there are very specific accepted practices that dictate how and where the officers are to approach the car and confront the suspect, Tabak said. The same is true for additional officers at the scene, on "where they are to place themselves so as to avoid the potential of the officers being injured should the suspect start to move the car, drive away, etc.," he said.
Law enforcement at the scene included six sheriff's deputies, a Sheriff’s Department Explorer and three Ripon police officers. "Out of all those people, only one person saw the need to shoot," Tabak said of Wall. "He shot multiple times, shot to kill and succeeded."
He added, "If, in fact, Wall killed this woman out of some concocted claim that he was concerned about Ripon officers' safety, then the officers had no business violating POST rules by putting themselves in that situation."
At a news conference a few days after the shooting, Sheriff Adam Christianson said Wall is a well-trained deputy and a K-9 officer who has been with the Sheriff's Department since 2013 and had no prior deadly force encounters.
The Feb. 26 incident began when Stanislaus County sheriff's deputies responded to a call at 2:56 a.m. at the Hampton Inn & Suites in the 4900 block of Sisk Road in Salida. Christianson has said a security guard reported Yadegar had begun an argument and a physical confrontation with him.
A deputy arrived at the hotel and saw Yadegar’s vehicle leaving the area. The pursuit ensued, heading north on Highway 99 into San Joaquin County. At 3:17 a.m., Yadegar's vehicle left the highway and continued into Ripon, heading south on South Manley Road and stopping near Tornell Circle.
Ripon police officers had joined the chase. The deputies and the officers tried to get Yadegar out of the vehicle. The shots were fired at 3:20 a.m., according to Christianson.
Tabak has called the deputy's actions an "execution" of a woman with clear signs of mental health problems who was unarmed and exhibited no dangerous behavior.
The complaint says Yadegar calmly and lawfully left the hotel premises when told to, but law enforcement pursued her though no known crime had been committed and she'd not behaved violently.
Throughout the pursuit, it says, she drove in a "safe, non-threatening and peaceful manner" and eventually pulled over "to comply with the pursuing patrol vehicles."
Yadegar "sat passively and intimidated" in her stopped vehicle, the complaint says. Asked how he reached that determination given that the only witnesses were law enforcement, Tabak said it's a "safe assumption based on her known bipolar episode she was then going through." That's the response "her family is confident she would have had."
A month ago, San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office spokesman Robert Himelblau said prosecutors had not made a determination if Deputy Wall's use of force was justified. In an email Wednesday, Himelblau, the supervising deputy district attorney, said, "Our position remains the same."
Tabak said he believes the DA's office is taking an inordinate amount of time on the case, and of all the law enforcement-related materials — reports and photo and video evidence — all he's been given is the autopsy report.
The lawsuit seeks general damages and special damages against the county and Wall, and punitive damages against Wall only. It lists damage amounts "in excess of $25,000," but Tabak says that's just a legal threshold that "in no means suggests the value of this case for the wrongful death of a wife and mother who we believe was trying to obey police commands.
"She was unarmed — I can't stress that enough. And with no evidence of violent conduct — she was a passive person — (the suit seeks) whatever a jury would feel is a fair amount for taking a person, without being arrested or tried, and that person being executed."
The Bee has sought comment from the Stanislaus County Counsel's Office and Sheriff's Department.