Jury rejects claim against Calif. police after wrong-way driver on meth died during arrest
An attorney for the department argued the driver, who had an enlarged heart, likely would have died that night even if police had never confronted him
By Sam Stanton
The Sacramento Bee
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Sacramento jury on Thursday rejected claims that Elk Grove police were responsible for the 2016 death of motorist Daniel Landeros, finding that officers had not used excessive or unreasonable force when they handcuffed him and held him to the ground after he was involved in a traffic crash while on methamphetamine.
The jury of six men and four women deliberated for about three hours Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning before reporting their verdict to Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb.
“I think the jury got it right,” Elk Grove police attorney Bruce Praet said outside court after the verdict was delivered.
Praet acknowledged the situation was “a tragic case” involving Landeros’ widow and five children who sat through the seven-day trial.
Before reaching their verdict, jurors asked Thursday morning to review four police body camera videos from the incident, including one where officers can be heard saying, “He’s turning blue,” and beginning to offer medical assistance.
Jennifer Landeros and her three oldest children watched quietly as jurors reviewed video from the Nov. 30, 2016, incident, including images of officers administering CPR to Landeros after he stopped moving while handcuffed face down.
“I feel bad for the Landeros family,” Praet said afterward. “They suffered a terrible loss.
“This all comes down to methamphetamine, which is a terrible drug.”
Landeros family attorney Dale Galipo, who argued that officers used excessive force by pinning Landeros face down to the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back until he died, said he believed the evidence presented in court deserved a financial award to the family.
“I’m disappointed in the verdict, but I guess I accept the verdicts in all the cases I win, also” he said.
Galipo had asked the jury in closing arguments Wednesday to award millions to the Landeros family, arguing that Landeros was unarmed and posed no threat to officers after he was cuffed.
“I’m not standing before you saying Daniel Landeros was perfect and he didn’t make any mistakes,” Galipo said Wednesday. “What I’m saying is he didn’t deserve to be treated the way he was and die.
“He needed help. He needed medical attention and he needed someone to help him,” Galipo said.
Galipo contended Landeros died because officers handcuffed him face down, then placed hundreds of pounds of weight on his back while struggling to subdue him, leading to Landeros being unable to breathe and dying.
“I can’t breathe,” Landeros can be heard saying on an officer’s body camera at one point as four officers are holding him down. Jurors watched that video again Thursday morning, along with three others, before reaching their verdict.
Praet argued that Landeros, a 41-year-old tile layer, had a toxic level of methamphetamine in his body the night he died, had a history of heart trouble and died from cardiac arrest.
“What caused Daniel Landeros’ death?” Praet asked jurors. “Really simple answer, one word: methamphetamine.”
Wrong way on Elk Grove Boulevard
Testimony has shown Landeros spent the day at his Elk Grove home watching television on the couch before declaring he wanted to go out and buy a six-pack of beer.
Landeros did not have a valid driver’s license and his wife, Jennifer, ultimately decided to go with him not knowing he had taken a level of methamphetamine that one expert testified could be fatal.
Landeros began driving and behaving erratically, passing by the liquor store and running a red light before his wife convinced him to stop and let her get out of the vehicle.
The two first met when she was a third grader and he was a year ahead of her, Jennifer Landeros said in emotional testimony Tuesday. As she left the truck he reached out to her and said, “Don’t go.”
“And that was the last time I saw him,” she said.
After she left the truck, she called her oldest daughter and the family children came to pick her up.
Landeros continued driving, eventually hitting 60 mph going the wrong way on Elk Grove Boulevard before colliding with oncoming traffic, according to testimony.
Landeros had a gash in his forehead and was walking away from the crash when police arrived and ordered him to stop. Landeros yelled at them, claiming they were “fake” and turned toward them with a clenched fist, testimony showed.
An officer fired a Taser and Landeros went down. Officers handcuffed his wrists behind his back and placed him face down while struggling to subdue him, but within five minutes he turned blue and died despite efforts to revive him.
‘He always told me he loved me’
On Tuesday, the last day of testimony, Galipo called Landeros’ five children, who range in age now from 11 to 23, to recall how much he loved them and how much they have missed out on in the nearly six years since his death.
“He always told me he loved me, every day” his oldest daughter, 23-year-old Deja Landeros, testified through tears. “He made me feel beautiful.
“He always encouraged me in school. He didn’t want me to work on my hands and knees like he did.”
Galipo showed the jury family photos from trips to Disneyland, Little League shots and a Thanksgiving Day family portrait taken in a park five days before Landeros died.
“When you get down to damages, I’ll totally leave it up to you,” Galipo told jurors. “What you think is fair.”
“They lost their father forever,” Galipo said. “Jennifer lost the love of her life forever.”
Praet, the Elk Grove attorney, said the emergency room doctor who first saw Landeros and the autopsy both concluded Landeros died from cardiac arrest. He argued that Landeros, who had an enlarged heart, likely would have died that night even if police had never confronted him.
“If he had just run another 50 yards, likely he would have died anyway,” Praet argued. “Daniel Landeros was going to have a heart attack that night.
“Take the methamphetamine out, Daniel Landeros doesn’t die.”