Former student Antoine Cherchian, a victim of the May 23 Isla Vista shooting last spring who survived multiple gunshot wounds, filed a complaint for damages against the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the County of Santa Barbara and the University of California Board of Regents on March 10, alleging a violation of due process under the 14th Amendment.
The case brief lists events preceding perpetrator and former Santa Barbara City College student Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree, exemplifying him as a public danger. The plaintiff alleges that the Sheriff’s Department violated their own Law Enforcement Services Manual by not investigating the department’s former incidents of contact with Rodger and not performing a background check on California’s gun registration system after receiving complaints about Rodger’s violent tendencies. Cherchian’s brief also alleges the county, Sheriff’s Department and the UC Regents violated policy manuals, the Psychiatric Emergency Team Regulations and the Firearm Policy by not requesting or providing a mental health evaluation by a licensed clinician after receiving a welfare check request from Rodgers’s mother, Chin Rodgers, on April 30, 2014.
Because of these violations, Cherchian alleges the defendants deprived him of his right to be free from personal injury and threat of death, claiming each of the accused are legally responsible for the injuries and damages he sustained on May 23, 2014.
The case brief states the Sheriff’s Department and the Regents acted irresponsibly by not acting on the readily available information Rodger himself posted on public websites, which included multiple videos posted to YouTube under his name expressing violent threats. According to the case brief, the Sheriff’s Department also failed to perform a check on the California gun registry or interview any of Rodger’s mental health providers, despite their ability to consult the registry where information on his possession of firearms would have been available.
“Recklessly and with deliberate indifference … no person from the SBCSD [Sheriff’s Department] or the Regents watched any part of any videos, reviewed any of Rodger’s other online postings, performed any kind of gun ownership or background check, or interviewed any mental health provider where Rodger was a known psychiatric patient,” the case brief states.
Cherchian’s brief also alleges the Sheriff’s Department is essentially responsible for putting those around Rodger in danger because of their lack of investigation into his background and unstable nature.
“Through their conduct, the officers impliedly affirmed that Rodger was not dangerous to the public, increasing the existing danger to his roommates, their guests, and the general public, living and interacting with Rodger on a daily basis in the college community about him,” the case brief states.
According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s office final investigative summary report on the I.V. mass murder released on Feb. 19, while six law enforcement officers responded to the welfare check request made by Chin Rodger, the sheriff’s deputies found no risk factors that justified a search of Rodger’s apartment or an involuntary mental health hold.
“[Rodger] explained he was having trouble fitting in socially in Isla Vista,” the report states. “The videos were merely a way of expressing himself. There was nothing during the contact with the suspect that gave deputies reason to believe he was a danger to himself or others.”
Fourth-year chemistry and math major Jose Brizuela said he believes the Sheriff’s Department should not be the target of Cherchian’s lawsuit because he feels law enforcement did their jobs to the best of their ability.
“I don’t feel like the sheriffs should be the people they go for because they were just doing their job to begin with,” Brizuela said. “Even when everything happened, they tried their hardest to stop [Rodger].”
Brizuela also said this lawsuit may set a precedent for more victims to come forward against the Sheriff’s Department, the Regents and the County.
“If this guy’s medical bills get paid off and whatever he wants to gets paid off, I’m sure other people will try and do the same,” Brizuela said.
Fourth-year mechanical engineering major Caroline Park said Rodger’s parents are more to blame than the Sheriff’s Department because she believes they were aware Rodger had purchased weapons and was a potential danger.
“When I first read about the case, I definitely thought that his parents were more in the wrong than anyone else,” Park said. “They had the most information. They knew he had guns. They knew that he was dangerous.”
According to the report on the shooting, Rodger’s parents had been informed by his life coach about the manifesto and YouTube videos, but had no knowledge of his weapons and did not view him as a threat to others.
“Sheriff’s detectives … spoke with both of the suspect’s parents, Peter and Chin Rodger, by telephone. The parents were in the process of driving to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles,” the report states. “Both were worried about their son based on the manifesto that had been emailed earlier that evening, but they both found it very difficult to believe that their son either owned weapons or would actually hurt anyone.”
Park also said the Sheriff’s Department has a duty to protect the rights of citizens living in I.V. and were in a difficult position during the welfare check on April 30, 2014. Park said she believes that if law enforcement had searched Rodger’s apartment and found nothing, it would be assumed they were violating his rights and would set a bad precedent.
“I think either way it could have gone wrong. If they were able to search his house and find something, that would have been great,” Park said. “But if it didn’t happen that way, that would be violating his rights. That could happen to any one of us in I.V. and I think that sets a bad example.”
UCSB Director of news and media relations at the Office of Public Affairs, George Foulsham, declined to comment on the case, stating the university does not comment on pending litigation.
Representatives from the Santa Barbara County Counsel and Cherchian’s legal team did not respond to requests for comment.