Kings County has paid $875,000 to the family of a Hanford-area man who was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy after the man allegedly charged at a deputy with a golf club inside the family’s home more than three years ago.
Stephen Crawley, 53, was shot three times around noon Nov. 17, 2012, after deputies responded to his Kansas Avenue home to a 911 report of him threatening his brother with a golf club.
Fresno attorney Bill Schmidt, who represents the family, said evidence submitted for a federal civil rights excessive-force case showed that sheriff’s deputies had no valid reason to break into the home and shoot Crawley.
He was alone in the house and posed no immediate threat to the deputies, Schmidt said. Deputies provoked the fatal altercation, Schmidt said.
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Sheriff David Robinson, however, said in an interview that deputies believed Crawley’s 77-year-old mother was inside the home and the deputies were concerned for her safety. It was determined later that Norma Crawley had gone to the store, the sheriff said.
Robinson said the deputy who shot Crawley, identified in court papers as Marius Barsteceanu, feared for his life because Crawley was charging at him with the club in a raised position.
Crawley was yelling “bizarre words” like “breaking bones,” when he confronted the deputy, the sheriff said.
I support the actions of my deputies 100 percent. They had to make a split-second decision and there was no other way they could have handled it.
Kings County Sheriff David Robinson
“I support the actions of my deputies 100 percent,” Robinson said, noting that the Kings County District Attorney’s Office cleared the deputies of any criminal wrongdoing. “They had to make a split-second decision and there was no other way they could have handled it.”
The county decided to settle in January, Robinson said, because if the county had lost in court it could have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in damages and attorney’s fees. “I didn’t agree with the settlement, but I am a reasonable person and I understand the risk in going to trial,” he said.
Weighing on the county’s decision, Robinson said, was a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill. The county had asked the judge to dismiss the case, but in a 62-page ruling in September, O’Neill said, “There are triable issues of fact as to whether the officers’ actions were reasonable.” Specifically, O’Neill said, Schmidt presented evidence to support his excessive force claim.
At issue, O’Neill said, was whether Crawley posed an immediate threat or whether deputies “recklessly provoked the violent confrontation” by kicking down a door to gain entry into the home without a warrant.
In addition, O’Neill said Schmidt could get punitive damages if the jury decided that the deputies’ conduct involved “deliberate indifference” or “reckless or callous indifference” in taking Crawley’s life.
Punitive damages would have made the case worth $5 million or more, Schmidt said.
In an interview, Schmidt said some deputies made up their concern for Crawley’s mother in order to defend their actions. He also said the evidence showed that Johnny Crawley had told the first-arriving deputies that his brother was alone in the home.
Schmidt said Crawley took care of his disabled brother, Johnny, who is in his 50s, and his mother.
Court records say Stephen Crawley has a criminal record for drug possession, receiving stolen property and battery, but his last conviction was in 1998 for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Within six minutes of showing up, (the deputy) had kicked down the door and shot the victim.
Fresno attorney Bill Schmidt, who represented Stephen Crawley’s family
On the day of the shooting, Stephen Crawley had no drugs or alcohol in his body, court records say. Those records detail what happened Nov. 17, 2012:
Johnny Crawley was watching television when he noticed Stephen “acting odd” and pacing and muttering to himself, “You’re gonna lose … I’m gonna come after you.”
Stephen Crawley had been sick with the flu for several days, so his brother initially ignored him. But when Stephen began hitting the floor with a golf club, Johnny left the home to get help. He rode his bicycle to a neighbor’s home and asked him to call police.
The neighbor told the 911 operator “that Johnny had asked him to call because his brother had a golf club and was inside their shared residence ‘going crazy.’ ”
Johnny Crawley told the first deputy to arrive that his brother was alone in the home and there were no other weapons except the golf club. He also said his brother was not on drugs, but was under a “spell.”
The deputy tried to make contact with Stephen Crawley. When he couldn’t, he decided to wait for backup.
Deputies showed up to the Crawley home. Barsteceanu was among the last to show up, Schmidt said. “But within six minutes of showing up, he had kicked down the door and shot the victim,” the lawyer said.