Woman in Car Shot to Death by Deputies

Times Staff Writer

Ventura County sheriff's deputies fatally shot an armed, suicidal woman as she sat in her car off Pacific Coast Highway, authorities said Friday.

Nancy Pearlman, 56, left her Camarillo home in her car Thursday evening after threatening to commit suicide, authorities said. Her husband, Gerald Pearlman, called police, who caught up with her about 20 minutes later at Point Mugu State Park.

Two deputies responded to the scene one-quarter mile north of Mugu Rock and were joined by others within minutes, said Eric Nishimoto, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. He did not know how many deputies were present when the shooting occurred.

Pearlman, who had a handgun, was responsive but uncooperative as she sat in her car in a parking lot, Nishimoto said.

"They were trying to get her out of the car, but she wouldn't get out," Nishimoto said.

Investigators would not say how many shots were fired, whether Pearlman fired or what prompted the gunfire.

The coroner's office said Pearlman died from a single gunshot to the head.

A woman who identified herself as a relative of Pearlman, but who declined to give her name, said she doubted Pearlman had provoked the shooting.

"She was never a danger to anybody. We cannot believe the police shot her," the woman said Friday. "Police should be protecting people. We were only asking them for help."

Nishimoto said the shooting is being investigated by the district attorney's office and two Sheriff's Department units -- professional standards and major crimes.

He refused to provide further information on Pearlman, such as whether she had a history of mental illness or had previous run-ins with authorities.

He also refused to disclose the names of deputies involved, citing legal considerations.

It is the first fatal shooting by an officer in the Sheriff's Department since 1998.

Pearlman's killing follows a spate of officer-involved homicides in Oxnard during 2001, when five people were killed over an eight-month period by officers in the city's Police Department. Three of the victims were mentally ill or emotionally disturbed.

During the past decade, county law enforcement officers have been involved in the deaths of at least 17 mentally ill people, according to a grand jury report released last year.

All police officers in the county are required to take eight hours of classes on how to defuse confrontations with mentally ill people, and specially trained officers take a 40-hour mental health training program at the sheriff's academy in Camarillo.

A Crisis Intervention Team officer is supposed to be called to the scene of a confrontation to help calm the distraught person, but that does not appear to have occurred in the Pearlman case.

Dr. Michael Ferguson, a psychiatrist who helped create the countywide program, said officers do not always have time to request intervention in a heated situation.

"Much of the time they can avoid a tragedy," Ferguson said. "Unfortunately, nothing is 100% perfect.

"If a person has a gun, that's a really high-risk situation," he said. "But the typical CIT approach still would be to try to talk the person down, get them to talk, listen to them, not bear down on them."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World