ADELANTO - The family of a man shot and killed last year by a sheriff’s deputy during a desert struggle filed a $10 million civil lawsuit Friday in U.S. Federal District Court in Riverside.
San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Janowicz was following up on a theft case Jan. 17 when he drove down Topaz Drive into a rural area. It was there that he found 35-year-old Donald James Hottinger.
Officials say the father of three was “uncooperative,” providing a false name and date of birth. The attorney who filed the lawsuit said Hottinger hadn’t committed a crime and the deputy should not have tried to detain him.
The shooting “was unjustified and they’ve tried to come up with an excuse to explain it,” said attorney Dale K. Galipo. “It adds insult to injury that the Sheriff’s Department tried to fabricate evidence in the way it happened.”
Hottinger grabbed a gasoline can from his truck and doused himself and Janowicz, threatening to light them on fire, officials said.
Then “he grabbed onto the deputy’s arm, got into his car and took off, dragging the deputy with him,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. “At that point, the deputy’s life definitely was in danger.”
Janowicz opened fire, hitting Hottinger. The deputy fell to the ground and the truck continued rolling until it hit a pile of construction debris.
As per procedure, a sheriff’s homicide team investigated the shooting and turned their findings over to the District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors have not yet released a report on the incident so the details surrounding the shooting remain unknown.
“We think the evidence will show that he did not run the police officer over nor did he try to set him on fire,” Galipo said.
Hottinger’s family could not be reached for comment Friday. Sheriff’s officials said they cannot comment on lawsuits.