North America

Family sues Sonoma County over standoff that ended in suicide

The family of a Santa Rosa man who killed himself during an armed standoff last year with Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies sued the county Friday in federal court, alleging an unwarranted, militarized assault on his home forced him to take his own life.

Glenn Swindell, a 39-year-old grocery store employee, shot himself at the end of a nearly 12-hour siege that began when his wife called 911 to report he locked himself in the Manka Circle house with their two young children after the couple had an argument.

Dozens of deputies, including a SWAT team with an armored vehicle, descended on Swindell’s home and remained for hours after he released the kids and refused to come out. He committed suicide sometime the next morning when deputies filled the attic he was hiding in with tear gas and other chemical irritants, causing him extreme suffering, the lawsuit says.

The suit claims deputies overreacted after reading what they thought were anti-law enforcement statements on Swindell’s Facebook page and learning he had two legally registered guns. It alleges authorities violated his right to free speech, to bear arms and be protected from illegal search.

“They were going after him for who he was,” said his younger brother Rick Swindell, who flew in from Arizona to announce the suit. “That’s the problem here. They pushed him into a corner where he had to kill himself.”

He and other family members are seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering as well as punitive damages to make an example of deputies who they claim punish people for asserting their rights.

Swindell’s widow, Sarah, 30, his brother and mother Deborah Belka of Bellingham, Wash., were scheduled to hold a 1 p.m. news conference after filing the suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The family’s lawyer, Arnoldo Casillas, also represents the parents of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, the Santa Rosa youth who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy as he walked down a street with a replica assault rifle.

The Lopez family is reportedly seeking millions of dollars in their wrongful death suit against the county and Deputy Erick Gelhaus. A trial is scheduled for some time next year.

Sarah Swindell is represented by Sebastopol attorney and Lopez activist Jon Melrod.

Sheriff’s officials and county lawyers declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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