Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday agreed to pay $1.75 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a Sebastopol teen who was killed in 2007 by sheriff?s deputies.
The payout is one of the largest on record by the county. But what it signifies in the death of 17-year-old Jeremiah Chass is being disputed.
Chass? family filed a federal lawsuit against the county, Sheriff Bill Cogbill and the two deputies involved in the shooting, claiming wrongful death and civil rights violations, and alleging that the deputies used excessive force.
Pat Emery, the Santa Rosa attorney representing the Chass family, said the settlement is a ?significant acknowledgment? by the county that the events leading up to the teen?s death were ?excessive and unnecessary.?
But Cogbill said in a statement that the deputies? actions were ?legal and reasonable,? and that the county decided to settle the case for economic reasons. He also suggested that an impartial jury could not be found to hear the case.
?Because of the naturally sympathetic nature of this case and the unpredictability of the civil legal process, our best judgment was not to risk additional taxpayers? dollars during these difficult fiscal times,? Cogbill said.
The county did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which was announced Tuesday after supervisors emerged from a 90-minute closed-door session.
It was a relatively quiet ending to a case stemming from chaotic events that began unfolding shortly before 9 a.m. March 12, 2007, when Mark and Yvette Chass called 911 for help with their troubled son.
Authorities contend that when Deputy John Misita arrived, he found Chass holding his 6-year-old brother, Isaiah, hostage inside the family minivan while the teen wielded a Leatherman-style tool with an open 2?-inch blade. Jeremiah?s stepfather, Mark Chass, was attempting to restrain him, police reports said.
After a 6?-minute struggle, and two minutes after Deputy Jim Ryan arrived, Chass was shot seven times. Ten minutes later, he was pronounced dead.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Cogbill said the deputies? actions saved Isaiah Chass? life and likely prevented injury to other family members.
But Emery said Tuesday that assertion is ?absolutely and completely false,? and that at the time Jeremiah Chass was shot, his younger brother was inside the house. The family contends the deputies exacerbated the conflict by their actions.
?The family called for help dealing with a medical emergency,? Emery said. ?Instead, they got a violent response, which escalated into a life-ending situation.?
Emery said the litigants met in late November to discuss a possible settlement. He said one of those meetings included Cogbill, the two deputies and Mark and Yvette Chass.
U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney approved the deal, which includes $100,000 of the settlement amount being set aside for Isaiah Chass? college education, Emery said.
Yvette and Mark Chass did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment. Emery said the couple?s hope is that the settlement leads to changes in the way law enforcement responds to those who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
?It?s important that families feel safe calling for help and that they don?t have to fear an excessive response,? Emery said. ?If the settlement helps make that point, that?s a good thing.?
But in his statement, Cogbill suggested no such changes will be forthcoming.