San Jose Mercury News
April 28, 2017
The widow of an 86-year-old Navy veteran is suing Santa Clara County and the sheriff’s sergeant who fatally shot him.
In a lawsuit filed April 17, Harue Craig alleges the sergeant used excessive force when he shot her husband, Eugene Craig, standing in the living room of his home.
The lawsuit also claims sheriff’s deputies violated Eugene Craig’s due process rights when they entered his home on Sept. 12, 2016 for a welfare check.
The lawsuit cites nine complaints for damages, including wrongful death by negligence and battery, inadequate training, lack of due process, violation of the Fourth Amendment and bystander emotional distress.
“The incident itself still troubles her to this day,” Ara Jabagchourian, Harue Craig’s attorney, told the Saratoga News. “She doesn’t even comprehend why what happened happened. She just wants to get answers as to why it was that they came into her own home and killed her husband in front of her.”
According to the Sheriff’s Department press release following the shooting, deputies believed the elderly man had medical issues. The release explained the department was responding to a request from the Craig’s granddaughter to administer a “welfare” or “wellness” check on him.
“In this case you have two individuals,” Jabagchourian said. “So what’s the likelihood that two of them would have suffered a heart attack, or two of them would have suffered some health ailments?”
The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.
But in a press release after the shooting, the department stated that after 50 minutes of trying to contact the Craigs by knocking on their door and calling the house phone, they broke down two doors and were met by Eugene Craig standing with his .38 caliber revolver drawn, prompting Sgt. Douglas Ulrich to fire several rounds at him.
“You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Why were the police there in the first place with guns drawn?’”
Jabagchourian said. “What prompted somebody to do that? Especially when there was no indication to believe there was foul play.”
The lawsuit states Eugene Craig believed someone was trying to break in.
Harue Craig also alleges that sheriff’s deputies involved in the incident weren’t properly trained in the use of deadly force and were inadequately disciplined. Ulrich was temporarily placed on paid administrative leave after the incident.
The lawsuit claims that 15 minutes before the officers broke down the side door, a neighbor and friend of the Craigs approached them, offering to intercede and communicate with the couple, but was told to stand back.
“If you can’t get ahold of somebody and a neighbor is offering to reach out to them, maybe allow that neighbor to reach out to them,” Jabagchourian said. “Maybe come back the next morning.”
Jabagchourian said the intent of the lawsuit is to give Haure Craig closure and prompt a change in how welfare checks are done.
“Maybe actually having a step-by-step escalation protocol rather than a zero to 100 mph change from knocking on the door to breaking down the door,” Jabagchourian said. “Maybe doing follow-up checks, maybe having someone from social services come over—something other than having law enforcement who probably doesn’t have much training in health issues of the elderly and what they can hear and what they can comprehend, and the fear they may be experiencing—when there are a bunch of shadows in the back yard.”