Criminal charges will not be filed against an off-duty Ventura County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot an unarmed Oxnard man in January, but prosecutors refused to rule the shooting justified, in part, because the deputy is not talking.
In what has become a common practice for law enforcement officers involved in such shootings, prosecutors said that Senior Deputy Steven Lengyel has exercised his constitutional right to remain silent about the Jan. 26 incident.
On Friday, the district attorney released a 47-page report detailing how Lengyel shot a drunk and combative Jack Dale Sexton, 26, while coming to the aid of an elderly neighbor.
Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Pete Kossoris, who wrote the report, said Friday that his investigators could not determine whether Lengyel’s actions were justified because he would not speak with them.
Lengyel, an eight-year Sheriff’s Department veteran, was trying to help his neighbor, 81-year-old Lillian Folk, when he shot Sexton once in the back inside Folk’s home, officials said.
Although prosecutors determined that Sexton was clearly drunk and combative and had committed a series of crimes leading up to the shooting, they said they do not have enough information to either clear Lengyel of criminal wrongdoing or determine that the shooting was justified.
On the advice of his attorney, Lengyel would not explain to either police detectives or district attorney investigators about what happened inside the home to prompt him to shoot Sexton, Kossoris said.
“We cannot conclude from the available evidence that the death of Jack Sexton was justifiable or excusable homicide,” Kossoris said in the report. “Neither, however, is there sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Deputy Lengyel committed a criminal offense when he shot Mr. Sexton.”
Calls to Lengyel’s attorney, Leo Tamisiea, were not returned Friday, but Ventura County Sheriff Larry Carpenter rushed to defend Lengyel.
“I am convinced that, based on the information available to Deputy Lengyel, the situation that he was confronted with, as well as his training and extensive experience, his actions that night were within policy and in fact justifiable within the spirit and letter of the law,” Carpenter said.
Sexton’s family members said they were disappointed that there is still a mystery about what prompted the shooting, said Richard Loy, an attorney representing the family.
The family sat down with Kossoris and district attorney investigators early Friday morning to go over the report and the findings, Loy said.
“It’s unfortunate that the family is the one that is deprived of this information,” Loy said.
Family members are still considering whether to file a lawsuit against Lengyel or the Sheriff’s Department, Loy said.
The attorney would not comment on Sexton’s actions before the shooting. But the district attorney’s report painted a damning picture of his behavior that night.
Investigators talked to more than two dozen people who attended a Super Bowl party with Sexton. Those people described him as drunk and belligerent. At one point during the evening, Sexton punched and choked another man in an unprovoked attack.
It took several party-goers to pull Sexton off the man, according to the report. A very drunk Sexton then jumped into his car and sped away, the report said. He eventually ran off the road and into a drainage ditch at Bubbling Springs Park.
A man tried to help Sexton, but Sexton scared him off, saying, “Get out of here, I’ll . . . kill you,” according to the D.A. report.
The report said the man watched Sexton wander to the back of the Ray Prueter Library and attempt to kick down a door. Sexton then crossed over the drainage ditch and jumped the backyard fence of Lillian Folk. He went to her back door and began banging on it.
Folk was frightened and ran across the street to Lengyel’s home screaming for help, the report said.
While Sexton walked away to another home where he banged on the door, Lengyel and another man, John Van Tilburg, who was in-line skating along the street at the time, crossed back over to Folk’s home to look for what they thought was a burglar, according to the report. Lengyel was carrying his service revolver.
While Lengyel and Van Tilburg were inside, Sexton came back to the home and walked through the open front door, the report said.
Van Tilburg and Lengyel had split up, and while Van Tilburg was alone in the kitchen, Sexton allegedly attacked him, punching him several times in the face and knocking him to the floor.
What happened next is not clear. Van Tilburg told investigators that he does not remember hearing or seeing anything for a few moments. But witnesses outside described hearing a gunshot and then seeing Sexton run out of the home with Lengyel following about 10 feet behind.
Sexton stumbled in the front of a home a few houses down. One woman said she heard Lengyel say, “Oh, my God, don’t die now.”
Apart from telling officers afterward that the shooting had “shocked” him, Lengyel made no other comments to officials about the shooting.