By Perry Smith
Signal Managing Editor
A partner at one of Santa Clarita’s most prominent personal injury firms is suing the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station over deputies’ response to a bank robbery last year, alleging a deprivation of civil rights, assault and false imprisonment.
The alleged incident began as deputies responded to a bank robbery that took place around 3:15 p.m. Jan. 6, 2020, at the Chase bank on Valencia Boulevard, down the street from the Sheriff’s Station and next to City Hall.
The suspect, Forrest Colby Rowe, 50, walked into the Chase location and handed a bank teller an envelope with a note inside that reported he had a gun and to give him the money, according to the criminal complaint filed against Rowe.
The law firm Owen Patterson & Owen declined to comment on the lawsuit at this time. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department did not have comment immediately available as of publication of this story.
Greg Owen’s lawsuit contends that, at approximately 3:30 p.m., he was walking to his car in the Westfield Valencia Town Center parking lot, across the street from the Chase location that had been robbed, as well as Owen’s office at Owen, Patterson & Owen — a firm that’s handled a number of high-profile lawsuits with SCV ties, including an $800 million settlement for victims of the 2017 Route 91 shooting.
Owen described himself as a “white male, over 6 feet tall, with a goatee, 66 years old … dressed in blue jeans and a long sleeve ‘quarter-zip’ Tommy Bahama sweater,” and carrying his briefcase, when deputies confronted him as soon as he entered the driver’s side of his BMW 750iL.
He instantly heard sirens, noting in the complaint that approximately 20 deputies surrounded his vehicle, “with guns drawn and pointed directly at his head.”
Detained and searched
Owen complied as he was told to put his arms outside his sedan, the complaint says. The complaint says deputies “then pulled plaintiff out of his vehicle, violently twisted plaintiff’s hands behind him, then held him near his vehicle, while DOES 1 to 10, inclusive, (i.e. the responding deputies) held a gun pointed towards his head.”
Owen said he didn’t receive a response as he questioned officers’ intent and told them that they were hurting him, as he had recently had shoulder surgery. Owen informed the deputies they did not have his permission to search his car, notifying them that he’s an attorney with an office across the street. Owen said they responded by pushing him up against his own vehicle and then opened his trunk for a search, also without Owen’s consent.
“Plaintiff continued to tell DOES 1 to 10, inclusive, that they were causing him great pain and that they had no right to search his vehicle and property therein, all to no avail,” according to the complaint. “After what seemed like an hour, DOES 1 to 10, inclusive, came over to plaintiff and told him he was free to go.”
Deputies on the scene then reportedly told Owen they did not have employment cards on them.
“Just the mere possibility of plaintiff, a white male, being across the street from a robbery, is insufficient to allow DOES 1 to 10, inclusive, to stop, search, seize and imprison plaintiff,” according to the complaint. “To engage in the intentional and reckless conduct that they engaged in, DOES 1 to 10, inclusive, must have had a reasonable basis for same, which would allow for the type of pain and injury that plaintiff was subjected to.”
The real bank robbery suspect
Rowe, described by Sheriff’s Department arrest records as bald, white, 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 185 pounds, was formally arrested on suspicion of felony bank robbery shortly after midnight Jan. 9, 2020.
Law enforcement officials eventually tracked Rowe’s cellphone to a hotel in San Bernardino, and a search warrant was issued three days later. (Rowe was reportedly wearing a black baseball cap, a black hoodie and sunglasses, fleeing from the robbery on foot, according to reports at the time cited in Owen’s complaint.)
Rowe is currently serving a seven-year, 11-month sentence in connection with that robbery, as well as another one that took place in Diamond Bar two days prior, according to Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. McEvoy added Rowe also was suspected of being connected to five additional bank robberies, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
Hearing and damages
Owen’s complaint notes he “continues to suffer pain, discomfort, anxiety, extreme emotional distress, depression, shock and injury to his person, as well as substantial losses in past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, past, present and future, and other damages, all in an amount according to proof and in excess of the minimum jurisdictional requirements of this court.”
Owen filed his eight-cause, 34-page complaint Feb. 16 in L.A. County Superior Court. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 2, 2022.