Neither Side Blamed : Police Ride-Along Files Suit in Penn Shootings

Times Staff Writer

The civilian ride-along shot by Sagon Penn after he shot two San Diego police officers filed a civil lawsuit Friday against Penn and the City of San Diego, claiming that police broke regulations by bringing her into the midst of a life-threatening confrontation.

The suit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court by Sarah Pina-Ruiz, supports neither the defense nor the prosecution version of the shootings March 31, when Police Agent Thomas Riggs was killed and Agent Donovan Jacobs was wounded in the neck. Pina-Ruiz watched in horror from the back seat of Riggs’ patrol car before being shot herself.

In testimony in May at the preliminary hearing for Penn, the 24-year-old Southeast San Diego man accused of shooting the officers and their civilian guest, Pina-Ruiz generally supported the police version of the incident. She said Penn argued with Jacobs about attempts to arrest him, grabbed Jacobs’ revolver as the two men wrestled, and then shot Jacobs and Riggs before moving toward Riggs’ patrol car and shooting at her through a closed window.


Penn contends that he acted in self-defense. He alleges that Jacobs beat him with a baton and provoked him with racial slurs.

Although Pina-Ruiz is not recanting her testimony at the preliminary hearing, her civil lawsuit is worded to draw no conclusion about which version of the multiple shootings will prevail in Penn’s criminal case, said C. Bradley Hallen, her attorney. The criminal case enters its third week of jury selection Monday.

The suit alleges: “Officer Jacobs conducted his detention (of Penn) in such a manner as to result in a violent reaction which he was unable to control.”

According to Hallen, “The allegation is deliberately broad enough to cover whatever the truth may ultimately be determined to be.”

Milton Silverman, Penn’s defense attorney, said he was intrigued by the suit, but noted that several witnesses already are expected to testify that Jacobs incited Penn’s actions.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter, the prosecutor in the criminal case, said Pina-Ruiz’s statements in the civil suit are irrelevant to the criminal proceedings. “It doesn’t appear from a fair reading of the transcript of her preliminary examination that anything in it supports the proposition of self-defense,” he said.


Hallen said the suit was filed during the criminal trial only because a statutory deadline for making the claim was about to expire.

The lawsuit alleges that Riggs endangered Pina-Ruiz by taking her into the midst of “an obviously dangerous situation” during her ride-along--a program in which civilians can drive with officers to observe police work close-up. Hallen said Police Department regulations require officers to drop off ride-alongs before approaching risky situations.

The suit says department rules also were violated by the lack of a shotgun in Riggs’ patrol car. At the preliminary hearing for Penn, Pina-Ruiz testified that she searched desperately in the car for some form of protection during the shooting spree, but found nothing.

Bill Robinson, a police spokesman, said the department would not comment on pending litigation.

In accordance with California law, the suit makes no monetary claim for damages. However, Hallen said a claim filed with the city as a prelude to the suit sought at least $500,000 in damages for Pina-Ruiz.