Slain Man’s Mother Gets $1.2 Million

Times Staff Writers

The mother of an Indio man who was shot and killed by a Riverside County district attorney’s investigator has received a $1.2-million settlement from the county.

The settlement, one of the largest in county history, was reached March 24 and resolves a federal lawsuit filed by the mother of Jesus-Pena “Jesse” Herrera, 32, against the district attorney’s office.

Herrera was outside the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission on Feb. 1, 2002, when he was shot in the head at close range by Dan Riter, a 56-year-old investigator for the district attorney’s office.

Riter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter July 3 and is scheduled to be sentenced by a Riverside County Superior Court judge Sept. 12. He faces up to 14 years in state prison, said Deputy Atty. Gen. Michael Murphy, who prosecuted the case.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said Riter retired June 23 during his criminal trial.


Riter had spent the previous 16 months on paid leave from his $77,000-per-year job, Ingrid Wyatt said.

Robert Mann, the Los Angeles attorney who represented Herrera’s mother, Alejandrina Pena-Herrera, described the settlement as financial security for his client, not compensation for the loss of her son.

“His mother was not in the best of health,” Mann said. “If we had gone to trial, it would have taken years to get the case resolved. It would have been very stressful for her. We felt it was best for her to put the grief behind her as soon as possible.

“One could argue that it was not nearly enough money, but it was a frugal woman and money wasn’t going to make that much difference to her anyhow.”

Riter was the first Riverside County law enforcement officer to be charged with murder for an incident in the line of duty.

The shooting occurred when Riter tried to detain a woman and her two children, to whom Herrera was giving a ride in his pickup. The children had been declared wards of the court, and Riter was trying to take them away.

Murphy said Riter, a 23-year veteran of the agency, used unreasonable force to do so when he stuck his handgun inside the truck and fired, striking Herrera.

During the criminal trial, Riter’s attorney argued that his client was met with violent resistance when he tried to detain the mother.

Mann said Herrera “didn’t know anything from anything.”

“Jesse Herrera was trying to drive away,” he said. “He just offered to give them a ride to the mission,” he said. “Then he [Riter] comes around, sticks his gun through the window of the car, 10 inches away from Jesse’s head and shoots him in the head. That is murder. He basically executed him.”

The settlement was one of the largest in recent county history, said county Chief Executive Officer Larry Parrish.

“It was a win-win situation for all parties,” said Peter Ferguson, the attorney who represented the county in settlement negotiations.

“We came to a resolution as quickly as possible.”

Juan Carlos Herrera, 32, of San Jose, the victim’s brother, said his family remains concerned about Riter’s possible sentence in the criminal case.

“It’s been an emotionally wrenching ordeal,” Herrera said. “There is nothing more important for us than for there to be justice from the criminal side of this ordeal. He killed my brother in cold blood.”