Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Exeter-area ricochet bullet victim wants Tulare grand jury inquiry

An Exeter-area man hit by a stray bullet from a police shooting range has gone to court in an effort to expedite a Tulare County Grand Jury investigation of the incident.

The city of Woodlake and its police chief, Tulare County sheriff's candidate John Zapalac, are attempting to delay that investigation, shooting victim Leland Perryman argues.

Zapalac and some of his officers were subpoenaed to testify about the Jan. 16, 2009, incident, but Zapalac and city officials asked the Tulare County superior court to stay those subpoenas.

A "slap suit" motion filed by Perryman and his wife, Judy, asks the court to allow the couple to become participants in the case between Woodlake and the grand jury.

Their goal is to get Woodlake's stay request thrown out so the subpoenas can be enforced.

Judge Lloyd Hicks will hear arguments on the motion Thursday.

"It's my constitutional right to have [the grand jury] investigate," Judy Perryman said.

Judy Perryman said she and her husband are not looking for money. They've already reached a $350,000 settlement with Woodlake, she said.

"We strongly support the grand jury in its role of investigating apparent misconduct," reads the motion, which was filed Wednesday.

The Perrymans were walking their dogs in a plum orchard near their home east of Exeter when a bullet struck Leland Perryman in his upper back. The bullet missed his heart by an inch and ended up in his abdomen, Judy Perryman said.

A group of Woodlake police officers were doing live-fire training at the range that day. Tulare County Sheriff's Department investigators determined that their targets were set up in such a way that their bullets could have passed over a berm and into the orchard.

The Perrymans' motion claims that they have information that Zapalac fired his weapon at the range on the day of the incident and that he could have fired the shot that injured Perryman. Judy Perryman would not disclose the basis for that claim, and Woodlake City Attorney Thomas Watson said it's untrue.

A sheriff's reports states that after answering initial questions, Woodlake officers stopped cooperating with detectives investigating the shooting. Zapalac told the sheriff's department detectives that his officers would answer no more questions, according to the report.

The Perrymans asked for a grand jury investigation in January.

A city of Woodlake response to the grand jury's subpoena asks that the matter be delayed until after the June 8 election, in which Zapalac faces incumbent Sheriff Bill Wittman. Zapalac requested the delay, Woodlake City Attorney Thomas Watson said.

Calls to Zapalac Monday were not returned.

Judy Perryman said she and her husband do not wish to affect the election. But they do want answers.

"We are very concerned about the apparent refusal by sworn peace officers to cooperate with an official law enforcement investigation and believe this may constitute an obstruction of justice," the Perrymans' motion states.

There were reasons other than the election to seek a stay of the subpoenas, city officials said. In court documents Watson states that information sought by the grand jury also relates to a federal civil lawsuit filed by Woodlake Police Officer Michael Clark against the sheriff's department.

That lawsuit claims that the department disclosed personal information about Clark in a report of the shooting released to the media. Some people involved in that case agreed to keep certain information confidential, Watson said.

"The parties would have to modify their agreement if they were to provide documents to the grand jury," he said.

Watson said he expects Hicks to decide on the request for a stay at Thursday's hearing.

Watson said Woodlake officers acted on the advice of the city attorney in the aftermath of the shooting. He said he needed time to determine the police department's potential liability and consult with the city's insurers.

That doesn't satisfy the Perrymans.

"If Woodlake had stepped up to the plate and said, 'Yes, we screwed up,' we wouldn't have been nearly as angry," Judy Perryman said.


No comments: