Sacramento family files $10 million claim over son's fatal CHP encounter

Authorities lied about weapon, ‘refused to render aid,’ attorney prepared to argue

The family of a Sacramento man who was fatally shot by a California Highway Patrol officer in March is seeking $10 million in damages from state and local law enforcement agencies.

The parents and two sisters of Jose Roberto Leon filed government claims last week against the CHP, Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and Sacramento Police Department for their involvement in the pursuit of the 22-year-old Leon, who reportedly bled to death inside of a home in the city's northeastern edge on the evening of March 17.

The claims say that Leon was riding his motorcycle near Elkhorn Boulevard and Dry Creek Road in the unincorporated community of Rio Linda when he was “illegally stopped and detained” by a CHP officer. According to the claims, filed September 14 by the law office of Reichel & Plesser, the officer then “illegally assaulted” Leon and shot at him at least three times, striking him at least once.

In their initial telling of the event, authorities portrayed the encounter differently, and described Leon as a combative carjacking suspect.

In a March 18 news release, the sheriff's department says the CHP officer “reportedly fired shots during a physical altercation with a potentially armed motorist,” who was suspected of robbing a driver of his Ford Bronco truck. The release later identifies the suspect as Leon.

After the shooting, Leon fled the scene and was later tracked to a home about three miles west, resulting in a two-hour standoff with sheriff's deputies and the police department's SWAT team. Authorities eventually entered the domicile and found Leon dead in a rear bedroom.

The claims allege that authorities knew Leon was unarmed and “dying from his wounds,” and that they “refused to render aid” that could have saved his life.

Attorney Mark Reichel was in court in Calaveras County on Monday and couldn't provide details about the family's account, other than to say in an email that “the claim was based on a fair view of what happened.”

Because the shooting occurred in unincorporated Sacramento County, the sheriff's department investigated its circumstances. That investigation was completed and forwarded to the district attorney's office for an independent analysis on September 18, said DA spokeswoman Shelly Orio.

The DA's office reinstated its policy for reviewing officer-involved shootings just 11 days prior to Leon's fatal encounter with a highway patrolman. Under the policy, the office has 90 days upon receiving the sheriff's department's report to publish its own findings, “unless there is cause for delay.”

The most recent DA review that's available is from December 2014. There have been 11 officer-involved shootings or deaths in custody this year, none of which the DA's office has reported on.

Orio cited the complex nature of use-of-force investigations. She said the office is still waiting for a coroner's final report regarding Leon's death.

If the three agencies reject the $10 million claim, Reichel said the next step is to file a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court.

A CHP spokesman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. But he did say the officer involved in the shooting was back on active duty. Sacramento police didn't respond to a media request.