Judge Leans Toward Dismissing West Covina as Defendant in Pursuit Suit

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Having already dismissed the city of Baldwin Park as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by relatives of a Covina couple killed during a police pursuit, a judge has indicated he is poised to doing the same with the city of West Covina.

The plaintiffs, all family members of the late Edward Louie Contreras and Gracie Contreras, have alleged the negligent actions of three police agencies and the driver they were trying to pull over led to the 2019 deaths in West Covina.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel M. Crowley issued a final ruling Tuesday granting the city of Baldwin Park’s motion to be dropped from the case, which also names as defendants the city of West Covina, the state and Salvador Gomez, the alleged driver of the car that was being chased. The state has jurisdiction over the California Highway Patrol.

In his ruling regarding the city of Baldwin Park, Crowley said the police report indicated that only West Covina officers engaged in the pursuit and that Baldwin Park officers only reported the police investigation into the pursued vehicle to other law enforcement agencies.

In a tentative ruling issued Tuesday, the judge agreed with immunity arguments raised by lawyers for the city of West Covina.

“At the time of the incident, West Covina had adopted (a vehicle pursuit policy that) meets all requirements of the applicable Vehicle Code section, as it provided guidance on initiating conducting, terminating and reporting a vehicle pursuit,” the judge wrote.

Crowley further noted that the policy requires all sworn officers must certify in writing they have received, read and understood the rules and that training on the issue is conducted annually.

“West Covina has fulfilled its obligation to establish immunity,” according to the judge, who is scheduled to hear any arguments later Wednesday before issuing a final ruling.

Crowley recently granted a motion by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Rodrigo Suarez of the Law Offices of Jacob Emrani, to withdraw as their representative. Suarez said in his court papers that he and the plaintiffs have had “irreconcilable differences” about the case since May.

The 55-year-old Edward Contreras and his 53-year-old wife had recently married and were headed home with Gracie’s son on Oct. 12, 2019, when Salvador Gomez, allegedly fleeing police in a stolen Jeep, and the pursuing officers ran a red light and crashed into the victims’ vehicle at Glendora and Cameron avenues in West Covina.

All three were ejected. The woman’s son, now 16 years old, survived and is one of the plaintiffs. The suit alleges wrongful death and motor vehicle negligence. The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages.

About 9 p.m. Oct. 11, 2019, Gomez, using a knife, forcefully stole a woman’s Jeep in Baldwin Park, the suit states. Police were alerted and the Jeep was seen heading toward West Covina, according to the suit.

The woman’s cell phone, which had a GPS system, was left in the Jeep, the suit states. The Jeep was seen about 2 a.m. Oct. 12, 2019, but instead of continuing to track Gomez and avoid a pursuit, the police agencies demanded he pull over even though he posed no threat to anyone and there was no emergency, according to the suit.

Gomez and the pursuing officers, after running a red light, all crashed into the car containing the couple and the woman’s son, the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs believe that none of the police cars had their emergency lights on or their sirens active, the suit states.

Attorneys for the state also have a pending dismissal motion scheduled to be heard on Sept. 30.

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