Sheriff's deputies trying to evict a California man believed to be armed and unstable didn't warn the locksmith hired to pick the lock of the man's sealed door, resulting in the locksmith's death, according to a lawsuit filed by his widow.
In April, a Modesto resident losing his home shot through the door and killed locksmith Glendon Engert as well as a deputy before turning the gun on himself, police said.
The locksmith's death is now the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit filed earlier this month by Engert's widow against the Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson and other officials connected with Jim Richard Ferrario's eviction.
The need to exercise caution was tragically ignored, the lawsuit contends.
"The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office sent a young, civilian locksmith, Engert, into a situation the Sheriffs [sic] knew was dangerous and life-threatening," the lawsuit alleges. "The Sheriffs [sic], as well as the property owner, gave no warning to Mr. Engert about the danger in which they were placing him, did nothing to protect him and failed to take alternative measures that could have kept him out of harm's way."
It says police were clearly confronting an unbalanced, territorial man. Ferrario had installed prominent security cameras around his property. The sheriff's office knew that Ferrario, who'd been living without electricity and hot water for months after falling behind on his mortgage, "possessed a cache of weapons including high-powered automatic military-style rifles," the lawsuit says.
A neighbor told an agent handling the early formalities of the eviction that Ferrario was a "military freak" with grenades and weapons, the lawsuit says. As deputies got ready to oversee the eviction, the agent informed police about the looming hazards
Those warnings circulated among other members of the sheriff's office, the Modesto Bee reported, but never trickled down to Engert, 35, who was hired to drill through Ferrario's extra-strength front door.
The Stanislaus sheriff's office and lawyers for the county didn't return repeated calls from HuffPost.
Engert took the gig even though he'd previously told his wife, Irina Engert, that he was reluctant to handle evictions when the resident was still inside the home.
At one point, the lawsuit says, he paused from drilling when he heard noises from inside, but deputies told him to keep going. Seconds later, shots tore through the front door, striking deputy Bob Paris in the head first. Engert, who tried to escape, was clipped by two bullets; the fatal shot hit him in the shoulder and exited through his rib cage, the lawsuit says.
Engert and Paris were declared dead at a nearby hospital. A second deputy escaped unscathed.
"The lethal shooting of [Enger] stemmed from a policy or practice of using civilian locksmiths to effectuate situations, even when the situation presents a clear and present danger," the lawsuit says. "The wealth of information provided to the deputies prior to their approach should have generated a safer plan of action."
Engert's death is well-known among professional locksmiths, according to Joey Lachausse, the assistant education manager of the Associated Locksmiths of America.
"It's a terrible thing that happened. Locksmiths get calls at two in the morning. It's dangerous out there. It's the nature of the beast," Lachausse told HuffPost. "Still, if [the police] knew someone potentially dangerous was in the house, I'd hope the police would tell the locksmith."