The fatal shooting of an elderly man shocked the quiet community of Saratoga last September, and now his widow, who was cowering behind her husband when sheriff's deputies shot him inside their home, is suing for wrongful death and civil rights and excessive force violations by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.
As CBS 5 reports, 90-year-old Harue Craig has filed a civil complaint with the county, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, and she's seeking both punitive damages and compensatory damages for emotional distress and wrongful death.
The tragic incident unfolded on September 12, 2016 around 7:50 p.m. when sheriff's deputies arrived at the home of Eugene Craig, and 86-year-old Navy veteran, and his wife. They were there to perform a welfare check after a call from someone claiming to be a relative saying that they had not been able to reach Mr. Craig in several weeks.
As the Mercury News reported at the time, deputies claimed that they knocked on the door repeatedly, tapped on windows, and announced their presence multiple times to no avail. They also claim that the called the home phone line which rang for 30 seconds with no answer.
It was after all this, around 8:40 p.m., that they called for medical assistance for an elderly person they said was not responding inside the house. After being unable to force entry through a steel-reinforced front door, they forced entry through a side door of the home, and were confronted by Eugene Craig, armed with a handgun. Deputies claim that Craig ignored orders to drop the weapon, and that he proceeded to raise it to fire at them.
According to Harue Craig's account, and a family friend who spoke to the Mercury-News shortly after the incident, the Craigs had no idea that these were sheriff's deputies, and they were scared that intruders were attempting to invade their home. Mrs. Craig says they were in the middle of dinner and clearly were confused by what was happening, and she was in fact cowering behind her husband when the deputies came into the home and fatally shot him.
That family friend, Greg Delaney, who spoke with Mrs. Craig as well as witnesses, said that his friend Gene was "freaking out" that someone was trying to break in, and that the deputies' actions are unconscionable. "They opened the door, saw that he had a gun, and shot him. They killed him in front of his wife,” he said. “These people were trigger happy."
Mrs. Craig's legal complaint names Sheriff’s Deputy Douglas Ulrich as the shooter, and alleges that unnamed deputies and administrative staff "failed to properly assess the need for and train on use of deadly force, were negligent in use of tactics," and maintained a code of silence with respect to "deputy sheriffs’ errors, misconduct or crimes," per CBS 5.
At the time, Sheriff Laurie Smith gave a statement saying, "Anytime there is a loss of life, it is a tragedy. Our deputies confront dangerous situations on a daily basis, and in this particular incident, I believe the deputies acted appropriately."