City Agrees to Pay $1.75 Million to Settle Suspect Shooting
The plaintiff was struck in the head by gunshot fired by former SM police officer
March 31, 2022
By Jack Simon, Observer Staff Writer
The city of Santa Monica has finalized a settlement with a 31-year-old man who was struck in the head by a gunshot fired by a former Santa Monica Police Department officer, officials announced this week.
The $1.75 million settlement was approved by the Santa Monica City Council Tuesday night, according Daniel Balaban, the plaintiff's attorney.
A notice filed in Los Angeles federal court on March 14 stated that the complaint filed by attorneys for Van Nuys resident Wolfgang Mountford was dismissed because the August 2020 suit was in the process of being settled.
The case derives from an encounter around 2 a.m. on July 14, 2019, when SMPD officers responded to reports of a disturbance in the 2000 block of Lincoln Court. Earlier that morning, officers handled a similar call about loud noise in the alley.
The officers had a "non-confrontational encounter" with Mountford, ran his identification, and left the premises, according to Balaban.
When the officers returned the second time, about 20 minutes later, they approached driving a dark vehicle without lights. Mountford became scared because he thought the resident who made the complaint was in the car and he tried to hide behind a trash can, according to the lawsuit.
When former SMPD Officer Eloy Rodriguez began to approach Mountford, he ran past the officer, who fired a single gunshot, striking Mountford in the head causing a severe injury, the suit states.
Police arrested Mountford and he spent 18 days in jail, received a bill for his hospital treatment, and "continues to suffer from the effects of the shooting," said Balaban.
"This settlement offers a sense of justice and vindication for our client who was maligned as a criminal when he was, in fact, a victim of excessive force and civil rights violations by law enforcement," Balaban said in a statement.
The attorney said the city of Santa Monica fired Rodriguez from the department in May 2020 after an investigation found he violated three municipal codes.
Following the Council's vote approving the settlement, the city offered the following statement:
"Mountford mostly recovered from the incident but was claiming residual mental and emotional injuries including ongoing cognitive deficits. The case had been set for trial next month. The City does not admit liability, but believes the settlement is in the best interests of the City."