Suspect paralyzed by Pierce deputy's gunfire. Was it excessive force?
By Shea Johnson - The News Tribune | Follow the link to access the online article
A man shot and paralyzed after allegedly fleeing authorities in a stolen vehicle last year has sued Pierce County and the deputy who pulled the trigger outside the suspect’s residence in Puyallup.
Bryan Galeana Mendoza, 20, filed the lawsuit Oct. 6 in Pierce County Superior Court, alleging that deputy Brian Johnson used excessive force by firing at him three times without warning or justification. One bullet struck Galeana Mendoza, hitting his spinal column and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, according to the complaint.
“Plaintiff’s injuries have negatively impacted nearly every single aspect of his life, and unfortunately, will continue to do so for the remainder of his life,” the suit stated.
On May 12, 2022, Galeana Mendoza was purportedly driving a BMW that was stolen at gunpoint days earlier and that was connected to a series of recent crimes in Lacey. Authorities tried to apprehend him at a red light on 160th Street East near Frederickson after he allegedly fled from law enforcement earlier.
Johnson approached the driver’s side, yelled, “Get out of the car!”, and smashed the front driver-side window with a long-handled flashlight, according to body-camera footage released last year by the Pierce County Force Investigation Team.
After ramming three other vehicles and rolling over Johnson’s foot, Galeana Mendoza allegedly broke through the stalled traffic in the BMW — with his girlfriend inside — and led deputies on a roughly 90-second chase at high speeds to his residence in Puyallup where he exited and tried to flee on a motorcycle before being shot, according to authorities and court filings.
Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett declared on Sept. 27 that the shooting was justified, writing that Johnson “had probable cause and reasonably believed that Mr. Galeana Mendoza had committed felonies and that he posed a threat of serious physical harm to the deputy and others.”
A handgun recovered underneath Galeana Mendoza matched one used in an armed robbery, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s report said.
The lawsuit suggested that Galeana Mendoza took off after the BMW’s window was smashed because Johnson hadn’t identified himself. “Frightened by the attack from behind, and out of concern for his personal safety and the safety of his pregnant girlfriend, Plaintiff attempted (to) flee the area in his vehicle,” the suit stated.
In an interview Wednesday, Cole Douglas, an attorney representing Galeana Mendoza in the lawsuit but not in the criminal matter, said there was no evidence that his client stole a vehicle.
“Even if he did, you’re going to say that the theft of a vehicle means that he should die,” Douglas said. “Because that’s ultimately what it is.”
Prosecuting Attorney’s Office spokesperson Adam Faber declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the county’s practice of generally not publicly addressing ongoing litigation.
Galeana Mendoza was charged with motor vehicle theft, attempting to elude authorities and three counts of hit and run involving other occupied vehicles, court records show. It appeared that he’d yet to be arraigned.
At the time of the shooting, Galeana Mendoza was also wanted on a warrant in connection to charges for allegedly driving recklessly in a stolen truck and attempting to flee from a Lakewood police officer in October 2021, according to court records.
The pursuit ended at a residence in the 6200 block of 160th Street East, where Galeana Mendoza lived, according to the lawsuit. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s analysis of the incident noted that the place was an alleged gang hideout.
Galeana Mendoza and his girlfriend got out of the BMW, which came to a stop after rolling into a utility box. Galeana Mendoza climbed onto the motorcycle — later determined to be stolen, authorities said — and maneuvered behind a U-haul truck while his girlfriend ran into the house. A sergeant involved in the pursuit, and first to arrive at the residence, shouted, “Stop or I’ll shoot you,” with his gun drawn toward Galeana Mendoza, according to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s report.
Galeana Mendoza began to speed onto a narrow trail and away from deputies when Johnson, who had joined the sergeant at the scene, fired three successive shots at him, body-camera footage showed.
Prosecutors’ report stated that the sergeant had said “don’t” after each shot but, while those words were picked up on the sergeant’s body camera, they couldn’t be heard on Johnson’s. The sergeant later told investigators that his remarks were made out of concern for other deputies who could have been in the line of fire on 160th Street East, adding that Johnson had a different vantage point.
“Dep. Johnson was comfortable that he had a suitable backdrop for shooting,” the report said.
The lawsuit cast doubt on that assertion, claiming that Johnson knew he was shooting into a residential area but not if other residents were in the vicinity.
Douglas said that a key aspect in this case was whether law enforcement had the right to be judge, jury and executioner.
“No one’s in harm’s way when he’s driving away,” he said he said of his client.
Then, a unilateral decision was made to end Galeana Mendoza’s life, according to Douglas.
“Anytime you use your weapon, you’re intending to kill someone,” he said.
The lawsuit, which also named Sheriff Ed Troyer as a defendant, alleges battery, negligence in hiring and training employees, and violations of the state’s Public Records Act, among other claims. Body-camera footage requested by Galeana Mendoza’s attorneys, which in part had been made available to news organizations last year, had yet to be provided to the plaintiff, according to the suit.
The filing seeks unspecified damages and to recoup legal fees.
Johnson returned to regular duty on Sept. 28, the day after the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office ruled the shooting justified, Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Sgt. Darren Moss said.