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Family announces $14.3-million settlement in death of a Pico Rivera man mistakenly shot by deputies

Family announces $14.3-million settlement in death of a Pico Rivera man mistakenly shot by deputies
The family of Frank Mendoza Sr., right, said they have reached a $14.35-million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Mendoza was killed by a deputy who mistook him for Cedric Ramirez, left.

Frank Mendoza Sr. was trying to escape his house after a gunman burst inside.

But when the longtime Pico Rivera resident moved toward his front door on Aug. 1, 2014, he was shot dead by a deputy who mistook him for the armed suspect.

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On Monday, members of the Mendoza family announced they’d reached a $14.35-million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Los Angeles County and the Sheriff’s Department.

The lawsuit claimed that officers used poor tactics by failing to evacuate all family members from the house and then firing on Mendoza, 54. The man’s wife, Lorraine, was held hostage by the gunman for eight hours before she was released.

“This is the worst nightmare of any citizen, where they’re under the suspicion that they’re being protected by law enforcement. Instead, law enforcement ends up taking their life,” Garo Mardirossian, the family’s attorney, said at a news conference in Los Angeles.

Lennie LaGuire, a spokeswoman for the county, confirmed a tentative settlement was reached. The payout includes money paid from insurance companies and a trust fund that covers liability costs for the 42 cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Department. The agreement must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors, she said.

Mardirossian said $10 million of the settlement had already been paid and he expects the full amount will be approved. A check reviewed by The Times shows his firm was paid $10 million earlier this month by an insurance company that covers cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Department.

In the summer of 2014, deputies in Pico Rivera were trying to find Cedric Ramirez, a “known ‘Pico Nuevo’ gang member” who was on a wanted flier and who had eluded police in July of that year after bailing out of a stolen car that was carrying two loaded guns including an AR-15 assault rifle, according to a district attorney’s memorandum of the incident.

Just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2014, Ramirez was seen jumping over walls toward the Mendozas’ backyard, the memo says. Trying to close in on the 24-year-old suspect, three deputies entered the front door of the Mendozas’ house, where some family members were gathered in the living room.

Ramirez shot at a deputy in the backyard, according to the memo. Hearing the gunshots, the deputies inside the home ran outside. They soon realized Ramirez had climbed inside the house through a rear window.

Deputies helped Mendoza’s son and two grandchildren evacuate out of the front door just before Ramirez fired again at deputies from inside the house, the memo says.

Moments later, as Mendoza tried to step out of the home, a deputy shot him once in the forehead and once in the leg, the report says.

The deputy, Anselmo Gonzalez, told investigators he mistook Mendoza for Ramirez and thought the figure in the door was rushing toward other deputies. He said he had seen other family members inside the house but didn’t remember seeing Mendoza, according to the memo.

Mendoza’s son, Frank Mendoza Jr., insisted that Gonzalez saw his father and should have known he was inside the house.

A crisis team tried to negotiate with Ramirez for several hours. He was shot and killed after pointing a loaded revolver at an officer, the report says. The hostage, Lorraine Mendoza, was rescued and was not physically harmed.

Prosecutors said Gonzalez “reasonably concluded, even though incorrectly, that the silhouette was an armed and dangerous Ramirez posing a threat,” and determined his actions, and those of the other deputies, were lawful.

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The deputies were “traumatized” after the incident, interim Sheriff John Scott said in 2014. He acknowledged Mendoza, who weighed more than 200 pounds, did not resemble Ramirez, who weighed 155 pounds and was three decades younger.

Gonzalez, who joined the department in 2001, is now assigned to the criminal intelligence bureau and is not working patrol, department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the Mendoza family,” the department said in a statement issued Monday. “Deputies were forced to make a split-second decision as an armed suspect willingly fired upon deputies multiple times, putting innocent lives at risk and taking a family hostage in their home. ... We are always striving to improve how we handle split-second life and death situations in an effort to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.”

Mendoza, who coached youth football in the neighborhood, was close to retiring from his job in a bakery at the time he was killed.

“Our father was our rock of the Mendoza family. He sat dead center at any event, from birthday parties to backyard barbecues,” his son said. “It’s very tough not to have him around.”

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