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Fatal Shooting Prompts Claim

The husband of a Camarillo woman killed in her car by deputies files a $5-million precursor to a lawsuit.

May 15, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

A Camarillo man whose wife was shot to death by Ventura County sheriff's deputies has filed a $5-million wrongful death claim against the county, alleging that officers are inadequately trained in the use of deadly force in dealing with disturbed or mentally ill people.

Nancy Pearlman, 56, was shot to death March 20 as she sat in her car at Point Mugu State Park after a standoff with deputies. Pearlman, who had a gun in her possession, died from a single gunshot to the head, according to the county coroner.

Her husband, Gerald Pearlman, called police that night to say he was worried about his wife, who had left the house with his gun. Minutes later, police caught up with the woman at the park off Pacific Coast Highway.

"All I wanted them to do was locate her," Pearlman said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that this was going to happen."

His three-page legal claim, which is a required precursor before filing a federal lawsuit, accuses the county of violating Nancy Pearlman's constitutional rights to be free from the use of excessive force. It also contends that deputies are poorly trained to deal with disturbed individuals.

Details of Nancy Pearlman's death are still unclear because the case remains under investigation. The names of the deputies involved have not been released.

But the deceased woman, described as distraught and suicidal by law enforcement officers, was uncooperative, according to authorities. Shortly before the shooting, sheriff's spokesman Eric Nishimoto said after the incident, Pearlman refused to get out of her 2001 Chevy Tahoe when instructed by deputies to do so.

Pearlman's husband, however, believes authorities erred in how they handled the situation. Based on information he has obtained, attorney Peter Williamson said his client believes that one deputy shot out the tires on the right side of his wife's car, while an officer on the other side of the vehicle who thought he was being fired at delivered the fatal shot to the victim's left temple.

"It's basically a classic cross-fire situation," Williamson said.

He also contends that his client's wife was not suicidal. He said the couple had discussed ending their 28-year marriage that night but that the exchange was not a heated argument or squabble.

"She hadn't threatened to kill herself," Williamson said.

After the couple's conversation, Gerald Pearlman left the house and returned later to find an empty gun case on their bed, Williamson said. He became alarmed and notified authorities, who soon located his wife.

Pearlman would not discuss what may have upset his wife that night or her mental history. He said he asked deputies if he could go to her when she was found, but they refused.

"They kept me [at home] for 3 1/2hours when" they already knew she was dead, he said.

In his claim, Pearlman is seeking damages for wrongful death, attorney's fees and punitive damages against the deputies involved in the shooting.

"The issue right now is that she didn't deserve to be shot," he said. "She was the most gentle person you ever saw in your life."

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