The mother of a man shot and killed by Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputies filed a federal civil rights suit last week contending the deputies used excessive force in trying to remove her mentally disabled son from her Antioch apartment last year.
The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the law offices of prominent civil rights attorney John Burris on behalf of 29-year-old Dewayne Ward Jr.’s mother, Yolanda Dozier, and Ward’s young son.
It seeks unspecified damages from the county for Ward’s death on Feb. 3, 2015.
According to the complaint, Dozier had asked sheriff’s deputies for help taking her son from her apartment on Claudia Court and getting him to a hospital for a psychological evaluation.
The deputies had agreed to meet her outside at 1 p.m. but instead the broke down the door and entered at about 12:40 p.m., according to the complaint.
Once inside, they startled Ward. Deputy Scott Pliler shot him multiple times, killing him, once the deputies were inside.
The complaint contains few details of what led up to the shooting, but according to county filings, Dozier had obtained a restraining order and move-out order after her son assaulted her and chased her from her apartment about a month earlier.
He had punched her in the head and locked her out of her apartment on New Year’s Eve. She had to stay with friends because every time she returned, he wouldn’t let her in, according to court documents.
Ward suffered from mental health problems and had been in and out of Napa State Hospital, Dozier said at a coroner’s inquest last year. He wasn’t a violent person but hadn’t been taking his medications, she said.
A district attorney’s investigator testified that Dozier had told him Ward was hearing voices, sometimes painted his face black and would stay all day in a dark room.
When a supervisor and eight deputies arrived that day to serve the move-out order, Ward tried to prevent them from entering, blocking them from unlocking the door, Pliler testified at the inquest.
Eventually they got into the apartment and Ward ran into a back bedroom and barricaded himself there. Deputies tried to kick down the bedroom door and sprayed pepper spray into a gap while trying to open it.
They finally managed to kick down the door and another deputy deployed a stun gun. Pliler said he entered and saw Ward on the bedroom floor with a butcher knife. Pliler, a K-9 handler, commanded his dog to bite Ward, but it didn’t work and Ward started swinging the knife at Pliler, he said.
Pliler ordered Ward to drop the knife but when he got within arm’s length, he shot him, Pliler testified.
Ward was shot twice in the back at a downward angle and once in the left breast, according to an autopsy. Sheriff’s investigators said the knife was found inside the room.
Ben Nisenbaum, an attorney with Burris’ office, criticized the deputies that day for disregarding Ward’s disability in their handling of the incident. He said when officers are dealing with people who are delusional or schizophrenic, they are trained to give them space and attempt to de-escalate the situation.
Ward’s family is seeking damages for wrongful death, civil rights violations and excessive force by the deputies, among other allegations.
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