Lawsuit over deadly Modesto ambush settled for $1.5 million

Officers respond to deadly ambush on Modesto’s Chrysler Drive in April 2012.
Officers respond to deadly ambush on Modesto’s Chrysler Drive in April 2012. Modesto Bee file

Stanislaus County will pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by survivors of a locksmith killed alongside a deputy sheriff in a 2012 eviction gone bad on Modesto’s Chrysler Drive.

Added to $1 million spent on attorney fees, the $2.5 million cost to taxpayers is the highest among dozens of lawsuits involving the Sheriff’s Department in Sheriff Adam Christianson’s 10-year tenure.

“Neither the county, nor the sheriff or his deputies, were responsible in any way for the intentional acts of the shooter Jim Ferrario, who ambushed and murdered” locksmith Glendon Engert and Deputy Bob Paris, said County Counsel John Doering. “We understand the tragic loss suffered by the Engert family because we too suffered the loss of one of our own, and no amount of settlement will fully compensate for those losses.”

Engert’s mother, Anne, said: “I still cry for my son, and I will for the rest of my life. His death has left a permanent wound in our family that does not lessen, irrespective of any compensation.”

The lawsuit, filed three years ago in federal court, contended that the 35-year-old locksmith might have expected better protection from Paris, 53, and his partner, since-retired Deputy Mike Glinskas. They had been warned about the gunman’s instability and military-grade weapons but did not alert Engert.

Occupant Jim Ferrario, 45, had lost through foreclosure a fourplex unit, where he had lived many years with his father, when the deputies arrived to evict Ferrario and secure the property for the new owner. Engert was trying to disable a heavy security door lock when Ferrario, using a high-powered assault rifle, fired from inside, killing Paris and Engert. A lengthy standoff ended when the home went up in flames, ignited by Ferrario, who committed suicide surrounded by a cache of weapons and ammunition.

“The incident affected all those involved, and it was important to resolve the lawsuit to complete the healing process,” Doering said. “In the end, there are no winners in this tragedy.”

The $2.5 million cost to taxpayers does not include property damage from the inferno. Insurance will cover the Engert payout, except for the county’s $250,000 deductible.

A previous $1.6 million judgment paid to a forensic pathologist, Dr. Robert Lawrence, who claimed Christianson and other county officials conspired to break his contract in 2007, eclipses the $1.5 million Engert payment, while the county’s $1 million for attorney fees in the Engert case far exceeds the $272,724 in the Lawrence case.

Christianson could not be reached Friday.

The Engert settlement was produced in mediation and includes $1.38 million in cash to be shared by Engert’s widow, Irina, and parents, Ronnie and Anne, plus a $115,637 annuity providing $500 monthly payments to the parents for 25 years, beginning Feb. 1.

The property owner previously settled out of court for $230,000.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill agreed last year that Engert might not have died if the officers had done things differently; for example, the deputies should not have told Engert to resume drilling the lock after he paused and told them he thought he heard something inside the home, the judge said.

The county admits no wrongdoing in the settlement, which the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved behind closed doors “to settle and dispose of any and all claims to avoid further expense, inconvenience, distraction, uncertainty and burden of protracted litigation,” reads the document. Although the deal was approved in October, a federal judge signed off on loose ends only Thursday and it became public Friday.

County lawyers’ pretrial strategy included probing the mental health and marriage counseling records of Glendon and Irina Engert, saying the documents could help determine the scope of her loss and set a value on his lost income. Lawyers also sought to probe the couple’s bank records and birth control and fertility history, as well as electronic devices including computers, cameras and cellphones, and they suggested that Glendon Engert preferred spending time with his computer and his mother rather than with his wife.

“The process was long and painful,” Anne Engert said Friday, “particularly because we had to endure repeated attempts to cast unfounded doubt upon Glendon’s character and upon our relationships with him.

“The court’s endorsement of our position,” she added, “despite considerable opposition, gives me some solace that the justice system does still work.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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