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Suspect Shot in Drug Raid Seeks $35 Million

Claims: Family of paralyzed Santa Paula man challenges city, county, U.S. government.

July 05, 2002|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The family of a Santa Paula man who was shot and left paralyzed by drug enforcement agents during an April drug raid has filed claims against the city, Ventura County and the federal government seeking $35 million in damages.

The claims were filed last month and are the first step in a process that will most likely end with the filing of a federal lawsuit naming the city, county and the Drug Enforcement Administration, said Stanley Raskin, a Torrance attorney representing the family of Edward Barron.

Barron, 22, was shot in the head April 17 by a DEA agent during a confrontation in the frontyard of Barron's home. Authorities had come to arrest Barron on a range of narcotics charges. Barron, the father of three young children, has been a quadriplegic since the shooting and is bedridden at a local hospital, Raskin said.

"They were killers and a killer doesn't always kill his subject," Raskin said. "[Barron] is just beginning to talk two months after the incident. He can slightly move one of his wrists."

The shooting occurred as a four-month operation by the Santa Paula Police Department and the DEA was wrapping up. Facing gang and drug problems that had spun out of control last year, Police Chief Bob Gonzales requested help from the DEA's Mobile Enforcement Team in January.

For the next four months, a team of gang and drug enforcement experts slept in local motels or commuted from Los Angeles while working with Santa Paula's 32-member Police Department.

The operation ended in May after 21 drug-related arrests and the seizure of several pounds of drugs and nearly a dozen guns.

The operation had gone relatively smoothly until the April 17 confrontation with Barron.

Authorities said Barron had well-known gang ties and was selling drugs out of his home at the time of the shooting.

Backed up by Santa Paula officers, two federal agents pulled up to the house about 7:50 p.m. as Barron stood in the yard with several family members and friends, Gonzales said.

The agents identified themselves immediately, Gonzales said. Barron pulled a handgun from his waistband and, instead of obeying an agent's order to drop the weapon, ran to the porch and pointed the pistol at the agents, the chief said.

"Mr. Barron pushed the issue and forced the [agents] to do what they did," Gonzales said. "The DEA was our guest and we take as much responsibility as our colleagues. I would prefer [Barron] be in the county jail instead of a hospital bed, but he created that situation."

Gonzales said he expected a claim against the city and its police department "because the trend is to sue."

An investigation by the DEA "showed that this agent was acting within the scope of his employment and dutifully and lawfully reacted in self-defense," said Jose Martinez, a special agent at the DEA's Los Angeles office.

Barron's mother, Cecilia, who witnessed the shooting, said that despite what Gonzales and DEA officials said, the truth of what happened has yet to come out.

"I am speechless right now," Cecilia Barron said when told of the findings of the DEA's inquiry. "I have so much I want to say but I can't, not right now. Our whole life has changed and it's been very hard. [The DEA] did wrong."

The federal government has six months to investigate any claims filed against it before a lawsuit can be filed, officials said.

Raskin said private investigators have interviewed several witnesses to the shooting, and a forensic expert will show that the bullet hit Barron as he was retreating.

Barron had a handgun stuffed in the waistband of his pants at the time of the shooting, Raskin said, but he never grabbed the gun as he tried to run. Instead, he said, agents planted the gun on the porch after realizing they used too much force.

According to the claim, Barron and a friend, Robert Garcia, were standing on the front lawn of the house when the agents, wearing masks, approached with guns drawn. Both men ran. Along with the bullet in the back of his neck, Barron sustained three gunshot wounds to the cheek, the claim states.

Raskin said the Santa Paula officers "had jurisdictional control and it was their responsibility to protect citizens. They almost killed an unarmed man. It's bad training."

Melissa Grisales, assistant to the city manager in Santa Paula, said the claim is being investigated by an adjuster, who has 30 days to return findings to the City Council before it votes on whether to accept or reject the claim.

County officials also have an adjuster investigating the claim, said Jackie Cohen, manager of claims litigation for the county.

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