Los Angeles County reached a record settlement with the family of an innocent man who was mistakenly shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy during a search for a wanted gang member in Pico Rivera in 2014, the family’s attorney announced during a news conference Monday.
The county has agreed to pay $14,350,000 after Frank Mendoza Sr., 54, was fatally struck by deputy gunfire at the family’s home in the 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive on Aug. 1, 2014, attorney Garo Mardirossian said.
Deputies from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had been searching for Cedric Ramirez, 24, a parolee wanted on felony warrants for being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, according to a previous news release from the agency.
Authorities initially located Ramirez at his girlfriend’s home, but he escaped from that residence in the 9000 block of Reichling Avenue, jumped over fences and ended up in the backyard of the Mendoza home, Mardirossian stated. The family was enjoying a get-together at the time.
Deputies entered the home and exchanged gunfire with Ramirez, then they exited the residence, “leaving the family inside,” a news release from the Mardirossian and Associates, Inc. law firm stated.
The victim’s adult son, Frank Al Mendoza Jr., got his two children and walked out the front door of the home. Mendoza Sr. followed them, but he was shot in the leg and forehead by a sheriff’s deputy, Mardirossian said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ramirez ended up engaging authorities in an eight-hour standoff in which he took the victim’s wife hostage, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
The suspect allegedly fired additional shots, prompting a SWAT team to enter the home. He engaged deputies with a handgun and was shot dead by authorities, another sheriff’s news release stated.
Mendoza Sr.’s wife was rescued unharmed.
A little over four years have passed since the deputy-involved shooting claimed the life of the father of five and grandfather of nine. His children, who were present at the news conference, said it’s been a difficult time for the family.
“It’s tough to explain your emotions and everything that happened to your father to your children, to his grandkids,” Mendoza Jr. said. “But after all, we have stayed strong as a family, and we’re going to continue to stay strong as a family.”
Family members said he was the “rock of the family” and the “center of any events.” His son told reporters that his father’s legacy will undoubtedly continue.
“He will never die. He will always live through us, through our kids because everything he taught us, that’s exactly what we taught them,” Mendoza Jr. said as he fought back tears.
His father had been employed by Unified Grocers, Inc. for 30 years and was scheduled to retire in three months. He planned to spend more time with his family.
“He was looking for those years with his grandchildren and his children, looking forward to it, and it was all taken away because of poor tactics and poor training on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department and the deputies involved,” Mardirossian said.
The attorney said he hopes the tragedy endured by the family will bring about change to department policies.
“The officer is still on the force,” he said. “We are hoping that better training, better tactics would be instituted within our law enforcement community so that this type of tragedy does not happen again; so it doesn’t repeat itself.”
Mendoza Jr. echoed the same sentiment but made it clear that he is not resentful.
“I was never really angry with the sheriff’s,” he said. “I’m disappointed in their tactics, but not really angry. I could understand they are here to serve, and they’re here to protect; it’s just that day it didn’t go their way.”
Mardirossian said the case was about to go to trial, when the county decided to settle.
“To be honest, the money is not a big deal to me," Mendoza Jr. said. "I would rather have my father around.”
The Sheriff’s Department released the following statement to KTLA on Monday afternoon:
“We offer our deepest condolences to the Mendoza family. This was an extremely dynamic and tragic incident that occurred on August 1, 2014. Deputies were forced to make a split-second decision as an armed suspect willingly fired upon deputies multiple times, putting innocent lives at risk and taking a family hostage in their home. The outcome was the rescue of that hostage, but also the heartbreaking death of an innocent man. We are always striving to improve how we handle split-second life and death situations in an effort to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.”