Orange County DA's Office
A Rancho Santa Margarita man who authorities say led them on a high-speed chase before being shot five times by a sheriff’s deputy has filed a claim against Orange County disputing the deputy’s version of events -- and accusing county employees of engaging in a cover-up to protect the deputy who shot him.
Authorities say that on March 10, 20-year-old Dennis Mueller was spotted by Deputy Manuel Cruz riding his motorcycle at recklessly high speeds. Mueller allegedly evaded Cruz by running red lights and traveling more than 100 miles per hour -- charges that Mueller denies -- but the deputy says he recognized the motorcyclist and went to confront him at his home on Meadow Park Lane.
According to Cruz’s version of events, Mueller saw the deputy and reached for something in his waistband, prompting Cruz to draw his firearm and shoot him five times in the arm and torso. Mueller recovered, but may permanently lose the use of his left hand.
The Orange County Register reports that Mueller and his lawyer, Joel Baruch, filed a claim on Tuesday offering a different version of events.
In the claim, Mueller says Deputy Cruz basically ambushed him at his home. He says he did not resist arrest, was not threatening Cruz and was not armed.
“Deputy Cruz was angry,” the claim reads, and “fabricated a version of the events in order to avoid criminal and civil liability.”
Cruz “came out of nowhere with his gun out” and shot Mueller within seconds, Baruch told the Register.
“This was really a bad shooting,” Baruch told the paper. “It was basically an attempted execution.”
Mueller’s claim also alleges that following the incident, deputies and non-sworn personnel of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department “conducted an inadequate investigation and attempted to cover up the truth,” the Register reports.
The claim only seeks damages “in excess of $25,000.” Mueller faces up to three years in state prison if convicted on three charges: felony reckless driving, misdemeanor resisting an officer and misdemeanor driving on a suspended license.