Tuesday, October 8, 2002
County May Settle Claims Stemming From 2001 Stevenson Ranch Shootout
By LORELEI LAIRD, Staff Writer
County officials yesterday recommended paying $200,000 to settle claims brought by two families caught in the 2001 shootout between federal agents, sheriff’s deputies and a neighbor in the Stevenson Ranch community near Santa Clarita.
The county Claims Board voted to recommend giving Marilyn and Philip Lombardi $167,500 for their claim of emotional distress, which they say was caused when sheriff’s deputies mistakenly fired into their home while engaged in a shootout with their next-door neighbor, James Allen Beck.
The panel also recommended giving $37,500 for emotional distress to Steve and Taylor Rizzo, who lived on the other side of Beck’s house and who were not evacuated until tear gas from the shootout began to seep into their home.
According to county documents, the shootout on Aug. 31, 2001 began when federal marshals tried to serve a search warrant on Beck, who had aroused his neighbors’ suspicions with his large gun collection and claims that he was a deputy federal marshal.
When agents from the U.S. Marshals and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to serve the warrant, with help from county sheriff’s deputies, Beck began shooting at them. During the five-hour standoff that ensued, sheriff’s deputies just arriving on the scene mistakenly fired into the Lombardis’ house, thinking it was the source of the gunfire. The plaintiffs, at home with their newborn daughter, called 911 and hid on a bathroom floor for about an hour until deputies could escort them to safety.
Steve Rizzo, on the other side of Beck’s house, was home with his four-year-old daughter Taylor when the shooting began. Because bullets hit their house as well, the Rizzos spent about an hour hiding behind furniture after calling 911. It was not until after deputies fired tear gas at Beck’s house, some of which found its way into the Rizzos’ home, that they were evacuated.
Because the settlement calls for a sum greater than $100,000, the county Board of Supervisors must vote to approve the Claims Board’s recommendation. It is scheduled to consider the matter at its Oct. 22 meeting.
If it is approved, the settlement, court fees and attorneys’ fees in the case will cost the county a total of $205,697.50.
Beck died in a fire that broke out after the tear gas was fired into his house. The cause of the fire remains unclear. A sheriff’s deputy, Hagop “Jake” Kuredjian, also died in the confrontation, of bullet wounds thought to have been inflicted by Beck.
Both families have already settled with the federal government for a total of $100,000, according to claims board documents. Additionally, the Lombardis have settled a separate claim with the county regarding extensive damage to their home.
Beck, 35, was a former police officer who had several criminal convictions in his past. His mother, Donna Beck, filed a related lawsuit in April, contending that deputies used excessive force when trying to extract her son from the house. The lawsuit also alleges that deputies killed him and tried to cover the evidence. The county counsel’s office said no progress has yet been made with that claim.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company