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Jury Awards $300,000 to Man Shot with Pepper Pellets

A San Juan Capistrano man was shot about 40 times with pellets by deputies during a 2002 incident at his home.

The Orange County Register
By Salvador Hernandez

A San Juan Capistrano man has been awarded $300,000 after winning a lawsuit against the county and six deputies with the sheriff's department who allegedly shot him repeatedly with pepper-filled gun pellets inside his home.

Javier Mendoza, who was 21 years old at the time, was shot about 40 times by deputies on July 29, 2002, leaving welts and bruises that bled through his skin. Deputies also hit Mendoza in the legs and hit his mother on the head with a metal flashlight during a scuffle that was unprovoked and unmerited, said Mendoza's attorney, Joseph H. Low.

"He never once threatened them, or punched them, or anything," Low said.

As deputies fired pepper-filled gun pellets at Mendoza, his mother became so frightened that she dialed 911 during the confrontation, asking a dispatcher to send police officers to respond and stop the deputies who were already at her home, Low said.

"His family didn't know what to do," Low said.

A jury in a federal courtroom found in favor of Mendoza, and Low said he is planning on filing another case alleging battery, unlawful arrest and negligence in state court.

The incident began at the Mendoza's home on Calle La Purisima, after Mendoza's parents called 911 and asked for help in getting their son to a hospital, Low said. Mendoza had smoked marijuana and began having a paranoid reaction to the drug. His parents were worried about his behavior and tried to get him to go to the hospital but were unable to persuade him to go.

They called 911 and asked for assistance, but they were surprised at the door when instead of paramedics, deputies were standing at the door to their home, Low said.

According to a complaint filed in court, Deputies Missel, A. Sevilla and Jon Auer went to the home where Mendoza was sitting at a dining room table with his parents, wearing only boxer shorts. Mendoza asked the deputies why they where there and then asked them to get out of the house.

"The officers elected not to explain why they were there but elected to start squirting Javier with pepper spray," according to the complaint. "Then they followed with shooting him, in rapid-fire succession, with pepper filled gun pellets."

Mendoza tried to run away, but one of the deputies hit him in the leg, causing him to fall. Mendoza ran to his room and a deputy followed him.

"Before the officers had arrived, her son had not demonstrated any violence, but had been hugging his mother while being frightened," according to the complaint.

Mendoza's mother, Guadalupe Mendoza, thought deputies were firing bullets at her son and tried to place herself between deputies and her son, Low said. When she did, one of he deputies swung his flashlight and hit her in the head.

Deputies were able to open the door to the room and found Mendoza, who had put Vaseline over his skin and poured water from a fish tank on his body because of the burning from the shots, Low said.

Deputies continued to shoot with the shot gun pepper pellets.

Mendoza's mother was taken to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo where she had surgery and had staples placed in her head, Low said. Mendoza suffered several bruises throughout his body.

A message left for an attorney who represented the county was not immediately returned.

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"Joseph, Thank you for your assistance. Your understanding compassion & incredible expertise are admired & appreciated. I will be referring any of my clients who require legal help to you."
- M.D.