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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Steve.Sawyer

We’re usually told the bad guy with the gun is the sole responsible party and it doesn’t matter how he got the gun. Now these people are saying it’s the fault of the person who put the gun in his hand? Hmmm.


FoxtrotYankee

Seems like the lawsuit will be tied to Penal Code 25100 PC:

(a) Except as provided in Section 25105, a person commits the crime of “criminal storage of a firearm in the first degree” if all of the following conditions are satisfied:


(1) The person keeps any firearm within any premises that are under the person’s custody or control.


(2) The person knows or reasonably should know that a person prohibited from possessing a firearm or deadly weapon pursuant to state or federal law is likely to gain access to the firearm.


(3) The person prohibited from possessing a firearm or deadly weapon pursuant to state or federal law obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes death or great bodily injury to themselves or any other person.


(b) Except as provided in Section 25105, a person commits the crime of “criminal storage of a firearm in the second degree” if all of the following conditions are satisfied:


(1) The person keeps any firearm within any premises that are under the person’s custody or control.


(2) The person knows or reasonably should know that a person prohibited from possessing a firearm or deadly weapon pursuant to state or federal law is likely to gain access to the firearm.


(3) The person prohibited from possessing a firearm or deadly weapon pursuant to state or federal law obtains access to the firearm and thereby causes injury, other than great bodily injury, to themselves or any other person, or carries the firearm either to a public place or in violation of Section 417.


Section 25100 does not apply whenever any of the following occurs:


(a) The child/person obtains the firearm as a result of an illegal entry to any premises by any person.


(b) The firearm is kept in a locked container or in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure.


Based on the PC, it seems like the debate will be around if entering through an unlocked window is considered “illegal entry” into the premises.


However, if the lawyer had just kept the firearm in a “locked container” there would be no debate.


Ben Daho

It was scary. I hope the officer and family are ok. The comments though. You can absolutely guess their party by their post. Period.

The guns were NOT locked securely in the office. SECURELY means SECURELY. if a random person walks, climbs, jumps, whatever it takes to get into any locations but can then walk out with weapons, Hazmateer thinks the person WOULD have broken into the safe and still get the weapons. Storing weapons in a safe should NOT be a ceramic, papar mache’ or plastic piggy bank. go to Roosters in Templeton and Look at what SECURELY stored means.


dland

I agree about being able to guess people’s party by posts that blame the victim of a burglary.


pasoparent5

Don’t forget–Mason Lira was able to evade arrest for three days. He didn’t even leave our area; he was in a crawl space downtown & in riverbed. He outfoxed the Paso PD, Atascadero PD, San Luis PD, CHP, County Sheriff, and other agencies. One mentally ill guy versus literally hundreds of trained professionals…scares me to think of the outcome if it had been him and 2 or 3 others.


Lira had posted violent ramblings on social media–why not sue Facebook? He had been in and out of jail repeatedly–why not blame lenient policies?


This lawsuit is just plain wrong.


Momma2Two

I am family to the deceased James Watson, and it is very unfortunate for his son to be claiming any damages for his father. He was ashamed of his dad and cut off ties with him long ago. The only one, if anyone, should be his ex Yvonne. She truly was the only one to care for him even as he lived on the street. I hope this goes no where.


obispan

Never heard how Deputy Dreyfus is doing. I’d hope that he’s recovered and back at work.


blackjack

Began with a burglary ? ” Everything has to be someone else’s fault” has come full circle in this case.


heybobareebob

Good for them. I hope they win every penny. And did the SLO police ever cite this guy for violating the law by not securing his guns? Not that we ever heard. Protect our LEOs. Secure your guns.


justadad

It’s not the attorneys fault that a lunatic was allowed to roam freely for so long. Lira was troubled for years. Nor should the attorney be responsible when someone burglarizes his office and steals stuff. The gun didn’t do it, Lira did. If someone steals my unlocked car and then hurts someone with it, I guess I should get sued.


Mid-Century55

I understand where you are coming from but that is why everyone have theft car insurance. I am a former client of Attorney Bettencourt and he is a good and fair person. He must have liability insurance for his practice which is where the lawsuit will probably get resolution. Yesterday I read about a women who sued GEICO car insurance when they denied her claim for contracting a a disease in their insured’s vehicle while having unprotected sex with the insured in his car. She won GEICO but it will probably end up in years of appeals unless GEICO wants the bad press to go away and reaches a settlement with the women.


dland

And this why insurance is so expensive. An insurance company should not pay out money because some lunatic committed a burglary, stole a gun and used it. I read the article you reference regarding GEICO and this woman getting a pay out is pure lunacy.


Hazmateer

It sounds like the guns and ammo WERE locked up – in Bettencourt’s office. The criminal broke into the office to steal them; there is every reason to believe that, if they had been further locked up, he would have just broken into that storage and still stolen them. If Lira had a criminal record, these people should sue the DA who didn’t lock him up for a longer period. Or they should sue Gavin Newsom for not signing a law that would have kept Lira in jail instead of walking the streets. These types of lawsuits are nonsense. Lira, and Lira alone, is responsible for these crimes. He’s dead; case closed.


pasoparent5

Agree. Lira had at least 10 previous arrests (public record avail online) including ones for threats of violence. He was a “frequent flyer” in numerous counties’ judicial systems.


heybobareebob

Wrong. The guy came in an open window. The gun was in a gym bag. Not secure at all either by state law or common sense. Ask Roosters if they think leaving a gun in a gym bag is safe way to store a gun. At least he could have put a trigger lock on it. You can get those for $15. Protect our LEOs.


bjsbizniz

I understand your point, but still it’s Lira’s doing . We can protect our LEO’s by keeping criminals locked up.


commonsenseguy

I agree. 100%