Injured deputy sues SLO attorney who left gun and ammo in office

June 11, 2022

Robert Bettencourt

By KAREN VELIE

Three people who suffered losses during a shooting spree in Paso Robles are suing a San Luis Obispo attorney for storing firearms and ammunition in an unlocked and accessible location in his law office.

Before going on a 2020 shooting spree in Paso Robles, Mason Lira burglarized attorney Robert Bettencourt’s office. Lira entered the building on the 900 block of Osos Street through an unlocked window and left with a .38 caliber revolver, a 40 caliber semi-automatic handgun and an unknown amount of ammunition.

Mason Lira in the alley behind Robert Bettencourt’s office

Lira ambushed the Paso Robles Police Department three days later, firing shots at officers and staff, who allegedly hid inside the department while requesting backup.

Deputy Nicholas Dreyfus and another deputy went to assist in the manhunt. While the two deputies searched the downtown area, Lira shot Dreyfus in the face. Lira then shot and killed 59-year-old James Watson near the train station.

Dreyfus, his wife Tyler Dreyfus, and James Watson’s son Johnny Watson filed a personal injury, loss of consortium and wrongful death lawsuit against Bettencourt on June 3.

“The conduct of defendant Bettencourt, in failing to lock firearms and ammunition in a reasonable, safe and prudent manner, was a substantial factor in causing the injuries and damages suffered by Nicholas Dreyfus and Tyler Dreyfus and was a substantial factor in causing the death of James Watson and by consequence, the wrongful damages suffered by Johnny Watson,” according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to allow them to also name the City of Paso Robles as a plaintiff, noting that if not for the negligence of officers, Lira likely would have been stopped at the police station.

“The police officers’ negligent acts and failures to act did not occur during the exercise of any of their discretionary duties because failing to engage a suspect who is on a public shooting spree when that suspect is outnumbered by police and the police officers have superior weapons, communications devices and tactical positioning, is not a basic policy of the police,” according to the lawsuit.

Over the span of a day and a half, Lira shot Watson, Dreyfus, an Arroyo Grand police officer, a California Highway Patrol officer and a Kings County Sheriff’s deputy.

Following the shooting, Dreyfus was flown to a trauma center out of the area where he underwent surgery for his injuries. The following day, deputies shot and killed Lira.


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IDBOUND

Since Lira’s shooting spree began and the very poorly executed pursuit of him unfolded. I have had the opinion that a LEO shot Mr. Watson by mistake or the officers bullet ricocheted and killed Watson. Lira’s M.O. was to shoot LEO’s not the general public . It is on convience store camera footage showing Lira at the convience store buying snacks with very little money he had , he did not steal from the store and he did not shoot any employees or shoppers and this camera footage is long after Lira’s shooting spree began.16 or 18 hours at least after Lira fired his first shot


Jorge Estrada

It all points right back to the thieves.


matthwy58

I think the lawsuit will state the window at Bettencourt’s office was left unlocked, so the guns were not secure making the firearm owner liable per state law.

My belief is the state of California is liable, for making laws that cause law abiding citizens to purchase and keep firearms in multiple locations when they should be able to open carry a firearm without fear of tyranny and for supporting the unstable and dangerous people loitering on our street, in our parks, shopping centers, riverbeds and all public areas.


FoxtrotYankee

By your logic, wouldn’t all the people you fear also be allowed to open carry legally?


matthwy58

I’m not saying remove all gun laws just the laws keeping law abiding citizens from exercising the right to keep and bear arms.

The state cannot take away law abiding citizens constitutional rights.


kettle

Lets lower the drinking age to 18, same as guns.


What could go wrong.


MysticOne

Replace gun with knife.. everything else is the same except someone is stabbed instead of shot. Does one still sue the victim of theft in that situation?


shelworth

A lady who contracted an STD while having sex in a car is getting over 5 million dollars from the guy’s auto insurance company, so, yes I think your stolen knife scenario makes just as much sense.


Robert1

Remove CA and place TX in the same spot, no lawsuit and open and carry is a constitutional right as it should be across America.


kettle

If you wanted open carry there are states that have that. I don’t know why conservatives want to live here as CA will never be a gop mecca (except San Diego and Jefferson county).


It’s like house buying near the beach and being unhappy with blowing sand, we have had hippies, drugs and kinky people for a long long time.


slo-to-load

Replace gun with hand grenade. Everything else is the same except the thief tosses the grenade into a crowded market. Does one still sue the person who left said grenade unsecured?


kevin rise

So if I have no kids and keep my piece where I can get in case some loon comes in while I’m sleeping, but instead am burglarized, I can be sued if someone steals my gun and shoots a public employee? How is keeping my gun in a safe when someone breaks into my house logic? Bless all hurt in this tragedy, but this is a tight rope of a situation.


FoxtrotYankee

Keep it on your bed stand/living room table/etc. when you’re at home. Lock it up when you’re not at home.


Jon Tatro

As a retired Police Officer this makes absolutely no sense, it should be thrown out quickly.


FoxtrotYankee

Seems like a violation of Penal Code 25100 PC. No?


paragon

You misspelled “fired”.


Adam Trask

So, does that mean a gun violence victim’s family can sue a gun manufacturer for leaving a deadly weapon in a gun store where just about anyone can get it?


dland

So using your logic a car manufacturer should be liable for leaving a vehicle at car dealership where just anyone can get it and someone is killed by the misuse of that vehicle. If used inappropriately a vehicle is a deadly weapon.


Adam Trask

That was my point. There is no logic in this lawsuit.


newlook

I hope Officer Dreyfus recovers well. However, a peace officer may not be personally sued for actions taken while performing his duties, O do not believe LEOs should be able to sue other victims unless they are able to be sued when they are negligent. The officer can not be sued for negligence on the handling of his confrontation with the perp. The officer signed up to, and is trained to engage suspects. Should he sue hid training officer also? His agency?

Peace officers have many levels of support and benefits when injured on the job. Suing someone who is a victim of the same crime spree just seems wrong.


Mid-Century55

I don’t understand why a burglar would pick an attorney’s office to break-in to unless he knew their was a gun in the office. This comment is not to take away from the death and damage the criminal and the stolen gun caused. I have complete empathy for the victims caused by the criminal and I suspect any one of us would sue over a similar situation.

I am a former client of Attorney Bettencourt and found him to be a fair and caring attorney but something must have happened that he felt he needed to keep a gun in his office but I am sorry to know his gun caused death and destruction to others. Had the gun been stored properly in an locked gun locker this situation wouldn’t have happened. I hope the victims and their families find resolution and healing in this lawsuit.


Everybody_Lies

The picture shown above (taken from security cam footage) indicates Lira entered the office through an unlocked window in the back alley of the business. I doubt the back alley had much signage indicating that the unlocked window belonged to an attorney’s office. Besides, why not break into an attorney’s office? If Lira had the huevos to ambush multiple police officers at one time, chances are he’s probably not a really picky thief. Lawyers are not likely to be in the office at night, and they make a lot of money which means they probably own nice things. A burglar’s paradise.