The family of a 40-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita man who was shot to death by Orange County deputies last month has retained Mark Geragos to pursue a wrongful death claim against the county and sheriff's department–and the celebrity defense attorney is already playing the Armenian card.
Geragos, who is representing the late Alec Ouzounian's father Raffi and mother Sema, claims the dad called 9-1-1 in hopes of a "proper mental health extraction" from his son's home but that arriving deputies instead had Raffi lead them to Alec, who was then shot twice in the heart as he emerged unarmed and naked from a bath tub before falling down stairs and landing at the elder Ouzounian's feet.
"I can think of nothing more horrific as a father, and an Armenian, than seeing the unlawful killing of a loved one who simply needed medical help," Geragos says. "We are confident the legacy of Alec Ouzounian will live on and lead to changes in the way the [Orange County] Sheriff's Department responds to calls involving mental illness."
Los Angeles-based Geragos & Geragos on Tuesday filed a government tort claim, which is the first step toward bringing a formal lawsuit. Seeking unspecified damages, the claim alleges: violations of state and federal constitutional rights and liberties; use of unnecessary force; violation of due process; assault; battery; negligence; negligent hiring; negligent supervision and training; intentional infliction of emotional distress; misrepresentation; fraud; conscious disregard for decedent's safety; emotional stress; pain and suffering; and loss of familial relations.
Besides the county and sheriff's department, the claim names Deputy Shawn Murray, Sgt. Dave Caler, Deputy Carlos Barrientos, Deputy James Pendley, Deputy Justin Mathieson and Deputy Susan Krauth. Which officers pulled the triggers is not specified.
"Upon information and belief, the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) has a custom and policy of escalating mental health extractions into lethal confrontations with foreseeable consequence being the death of innocent citizens suffering from mental disorders," alleges the claim.
The Weekly contacted the County of Orange and Orange County Sheriff's Department early Tuesday afternoon for comment but has yet to hear back. This post will be updated should either agency provide a response.
Shortly after the incident, sheriff's spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock said deputies were called to the residence at 28 Paseo Viento, Rancho Santa Margarita, around 2:10 p.m. May 12 about someone trying to commit suicide. When deputies entered the home, they found a man suffering multiple self-inflicted stab wounds, a confrontation ensued with him and a deputy-involved shooting occurred, Hallock said.
Alec Ouzounian was taken by paramedics to a local hospital where he later died, said Hallock, who added no deputies were injured in the incident.
Under the heading "How the Damages or Injuries Occurred," in the Geragos law firm's claim, Ouzounian is described as a toymaker who sold his products online. He also suffered from depression, and it was a call to his parents saying he intended to harm himself that spurred his father to call 9-1-1, drive two miles to his son's home and be greeted by "a war zone" with 5-10 sheriff's vehicles, at least one firetruck and an ambulance.
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* Raffi, who hoped paramedics or mental health would intervene, urged deputies to get his son medical assistance. Deputies refused to enter until Raffi opened the locked door. At deputies' request, Raffi went home to get a garage door opener and came back to open the garage door to enter the home. "In violation of protocol, deputies ordered Raffi to lead the operation to remove his son."
* Raffi walked through the home with deputies following, then up the stairs and to the locked bathroom door. He then walked down the stairs to inform the deputies his son was in the bathroom. As Raffi stood at the foot of the stairs looking up at the bathroom door, he watched as deputies "stormed in" and "witnessed the horrific and unlawful events that took place next."
* Directly from the claim: "The deputy sheriffs broke down the bathroom door without any commands.
"Alec was crouching and completely naked in the bathtub.
"He was bloody. Alec exited the bathtub.
"Alec was unarmed and completely naked and exposed.
"Again, the deputy sheriffs gave no orders or commands of any kind. The deputy sheriffs then shot the completely naked Alec two times, both times in the heart, with a shotgun and a handgun.
"Alec's body propelled down the stairs, his head smashed each stair on the way down and his body landed directly at the feet of Raffi.
"Raffi screamed: "you shot my son!
"Raffi was escorted away from the body by a deputy sheriff but was still in the house. No paramedic entered the house for approximately 15 minutes as Alec was left to die on the ground of his own home."
The Orange County District Attorney's office is investigating the shooting, as is protocol. It will be interesting to see if the language prosecutors and DA investigators use in their final report is anything like what Mark Geragos uses in the claim.