Deputy shooting lawsuit: Causey estate awarded $575K
Ashley Meeks firstname.lastname@example.org
Article ID: 15596655
LAS CRUCES – A federal jury in Las Cruces has found Dona Ana County responsible for the wrongful death of a 34-year-old Nevada man and awarded his estate $575,000 in damages. In addition, jurors found the county negligent in the hiring, training and supervising of then-sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Montoya, who fatally shot Megan Dylan Causey once in the neck July 2, 2007, as the man and his 6-year-old son were driving from Causey‘s parents home at 5080 Chiricahua Trail in Dona Ana. Deputies were responding to a reported domestic disturbance when Causey tried to drive away in a van, got stuck in a patch of rocks, and failed to respond to Montoya’s orders to stop.
“Within 25 seconds, he was shot and killed,” said Albuquerque attorney Richard Sandoval, who represented Causey‘s now 9-year-old son with co-counsel Kenneth Downes.
Friday’s judgment in federal court in Las Cruces is especially significant with a number of other police shootings under litigation in Dona Ana County, said Sandoval, though only one out of 10 in the past six years – the March 29 shooting of 17-year-old Nick Dominguez in Mesquite – involves the Dona Ana Sheriff’s Department.
The five-day trial in U.S. Magistrate Karen B. Molzen’s courtroom in Las Cruces concluded Friday evening with the judgment, which is expected to be reduced by half because Causey was found to be partially responsible for his death. The jury also awarded Causey‘s estate be paid back legal costs, which ran into five figures.
The damages awarded will be used primarily for ongoing and future counseling for Causey‘s young son, Sandoval said.
“At the time the officer pulled that trigger, he didn’t know if he was shooting a suspect in a crime, the victim of a crime – or a neighbor,” Sandoval said. “We’re pleased with the verdict … Both parties were at fault, but the bottom line is, Montoya just pulled that trigger. (Causey) was shot once in the neck, opened the door, fell out of the vehicle, they Tasered him twice and he died.”
Montoya, who had been convicted twice of drunken driving, once when two times over the legal limit and with an open container in an unregistered, uninsured car, never should have been hired in the first place, Sandoval said. In fully 25 percent of his training days, officer safety was marked as Montoya’s “least satisfactory” area of performance, Sandoval noted.
Montoya, who joined the department in 2005, was cleared of wrongdoing the month after the shooting by a multi-agency task force and District Attorney Susana Martinez, who said Montoya was justified in using lethal force because he felt his life was in immediate danger. Since then, Montoya has been promoted to a position where he trains other officers, Sandoval said.
“It’s a real problem for Dona Ana County,” he said. “I don’t know how (the sheriff’s office) cannot make changes (going forward). This just shows they must make changes. If they don’t, they’re exposing themselves to real significant liabilities.”
HadCauseysurvived the shooting, authorities said he would have faced charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, as he was less than six feet from striking the deputy and Causey‘s father when he was shot.
Original reports called in to 911 claimed Causey was suffering from a mental disturbance – which were not verified – and there were two guns in the house, authorities said.
Causey had moved here from Nevada just that summer to live with his parents, who maintained Causey was not accelerating toward the deputy and that the van was stuck in gravel.
Dona Ana County, which was represented by Albuquerque attorney Kevin Brown, has not yet indicated if they will appeal the verdict. County spokesman Jess Williams declined to comment on the judgment Saturday, saying he had not been aware of the case, and county attorney John Caldwell could not immediately be reached.
Ashley Meeks can be reached at (575) 541-5462
Copyright (c) 2010 Las Cruces Sun-News, a MediaNews Group Newspaper.