Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies unnecessarily shot and unleashed a K-9 dog attack before doctoring official incident reports to mask their conduct with an unarmed, mentally ill Lake Forest man who’d committed no crime.
Those are the allegations contained in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed this month by attorneys for Mark Hanalei Matias.
This tale began in Oct. 2017, when a Matias’ neighbor called the sheriff’s department to report seeing him acting strange; he’d been seen holding a gun in his front yard but hadn’t pointed it at anyone or made any threats. The neighbor alerted officers that he suffered from schizophrenic episodes.
Instead of summoning deputies skilled at dealing with mentally unstable citizens, officers notified a SWAT team. When those deputies arrived, they ordered Matias to exit his home, which he did while holding his passport to prove his identity. He complied with their demand that he drop the paperwork, but, while standing on his front walkway, he refused their command to walk off of his property.
That’s when “a swarm” of deputies decided to use a shotgun to fire non-lethal bean bag shots at a “calm” Matias, who while wounded and frightened attempted to retreat before an unannounced K-9 dog attack that later required 17 stitches, according to the lawsuit.
“The use of force against Mr. Matias, striking him at least three times, and when a K-9 attack was deployed, he’d committed no serious crime, had not threatened to harm or harmed anyone and was unarmed; none of the defendant deputies nor any other persons were at risk of harm,” plaintiff attorneys Jennifer L. Williams and Anya J. Goldstein wrote in the complaint, which also alleges deputies purposely omitted from reports that neighbors had advised them of the mental illness issues. “The deputies had no legal justification for using force against Mr. Matias and their use of force, while carrying out their duties, was an unreasonable use of force.”
High-priced private but taxpayer-paid lawyers for the deputies have not yet filed a response.
Sheriff’s department officials historically refuse to admit any wrongdoing and routinely declare their deputies should be immune from lawsuits based on their conduct because they are public servants.
Inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford will preside over the case.
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.