Retired cop sues deputies over gun arrest

March 1, 2016   Kristina Davis

A retired California Highway Patrol officer who had a permit to carry a gun onto a Santee high school campus is suing the Sheriff’s Department for false arrest, excessive force and unlawful search and seizure, among other claims.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in San Diego federal court, asks for at least $20 million in damages.

According to state law, firearms are not allowed on school campuses, although there are several exemptions to the law, one of them pertaining to honorably retired peace officers who are authorized under a permit to carry a concealed or loaded gun.

Robert Pitt, 59, who served in the CHP for 33 years, went to Santana High School the morning of Jan. 21, 2015, with his girlfriend to drop off her daughter. The couple then went to the administrative offices to complain to the vice principal about threats the 15-year-old girl had been receiving from another student, according to the lawsuit.

While they were waiting in the lobby, Principal Tim Schwuchow asked to speak with Pitt privately in his office, the complaint states. The principal is accused of then asking Pitt whether or not he had a gun in his fanny pack, whether he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and what his law enforcement status was, the lawsuit claims.

Pitt answered that he was retired law enforcement with a permit to carry a concealed gun, and Schwuchow allegedly replied that the school didn’t honor such permits and directed a sheriff’s deputy to search Pitt.

Deputy David R. Smith found Pitt’s CHP-issued .40 caliber Sig Sauer pistol in the fanny pack.

The principal then allegedly ordered the deputy to arrest Pitt for bringing a loaded firearm into a school zone, the lawsuit states.

Pitt protested to the deputy, and the deputy put him in handcuffs, searched him twice, then loaded him into the back of a patrol car, the lawsuit says.

While the deputy processed Pitt’s arrest at the Santee sheriff’s substation, Pitt pointed out that his law enforcement concealed-weapon permit was in his wallet, and the deputy replied that he had already seen it, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit claims Pitt was not read his Miranda rights before being booked into jail. Pitt said he was put into a general population holding cell at the downtown jail, even though arrested law enforcement officers are typically segregated from others in jail for their safety, the lawsuit claims.

He was moved to a segregated holding cell two hours later after another jail deputy learned his law enforcement background, the suit states. After awhile, a jail clerk told Pitt he was free to go and that there were no charges against him.

Pitt tried to get his gun back from deputies the next day but was told there was still an ongoing criminal investigation into the matter and refused, the lawsuit states. Pitt, a child support officer with county, was also scolded about missing work and bringing his gun to work, which he said he never did, the lawsuit says.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges in the case.

Sheriff’s internal affairs investigators invited Pitt to speak with them about the incident two months later, the suit claims. There was no information released about the outcome of the investigation.

A sheriff’s spokeswoman said Tuesday the department is not able to talk about pending litigation, and county counsel said the office had not yet been served with the case and declined to comment.

Pitt’s lawyer, Jerry Steering, said the apparent wrongfulness of the arrest is “so blatant” in this case. He pointed out that it was an armed off-duty police officer who happened to be at Santana High registering his daughter when student Andy Williams, then 15, went on a shooting spree in 2001. The officer helped subdue the teen.

“If some off-duty cop wants to sit at my kid’s school all day, that’s just fine with me,” Steering said.