It was just a routine workers’ compensation fraud case for Ken Sheppard. Show up for a spot check, do some surveillance of the subject and keep it pushing. But on March 3, 2014, it was anything but routine for the renowned private investigator known for busting reality TV series “Bridezillas” star Anita Maxwell for insurance fraud.
On location in Montrose, California, a city with just under 20,000 residents and less than one percent of them African-American, Mr. Sheppard was conducting regular surveillance of a subject while parked in his black Chevy Tahoe.
It wasn’t long before a black and white, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department cruiser materialized while Mr. Sheppard was in his car working in this city of very few Blacks.
The Tahoe Mr. Sheppard was sitting in had side and rear tinted windows and was registered and insured for $three million dollars in policy coverage.
It’s important to note that in subsequent court documents filed in federal court, Deputy Plunkett, as he was identified, had not been called to the scene by a neighbor or any other witness. No person alerted Deputy Plunkett’s station of suspicious activity in the area. He was just there.
Deputy Plunkett exited his vehicle walking along the drivers’ side of the Tahoe, with his weapon drawn. Upon seeing Deputy Plunkett’s approach, Mr. Sheppard rolled the driver’s side window down and exposed his hands, demonstrating that there was no cause for alarm.
In response to Deputy Plunkett’s question concerning his activities, Mr. Sheppard advised that he was sitting in his vehicle working. Deputy Plunkett asked, “why?” making no mention of having noticed tinted windows, nor any issue with license plates. Deputy Plunkett next asked if Mr. Sheppard was engaged as a “P.I. or something.”
Mr. Sheppard next asked Deputy Plunkett whether it appeared that Mr. Sheppard was doing something wrong to which the deputy admitted that he “did not know.”
With his weapon still drawn, Deputy Plunkett then placed his left hand on Mr. Sheppard’s left wrist. Mr. Sheppard asked Mr. Plunkett to “please remove” his hand from Mr. Sheppard’s person. Deputy Plunkett refused this request, used his radio and proceeded to ignore Mr. Sheppard’s repeated demands for the intervention of Deputy Plunkett’s Watch Commander.
As the video shows, Mr. Sheppard asked Deputy Plunkett at least eight times to call in a Watch Commander to the location.
While holding Mr. Sheppard’s wrist, Deputy Plunkett was visibly shaking, to the point that Mr. Sheppard could feel and observe the tremors emanating from Deputy Plunkett’s hand. Mr. Sheppard repeated his request that Deputy Plunkett holster his weapon.
According to Mr. Sheppard, in order to make sure that he could properly hear any commands from Deputy Plunkett, he raised his left hand in full view of the deputy and removed a Bluetooth earpiece, from his left ear. His ear was also facing Deputy Plunkett.
It’s at this point that Deputy Plunkett points his Beretta 92F at the side of Mr. Sheppard’s head toward his left temple while shouting “do not fucking be reaching.” At some point, prior to holstering his weapon, Deputy Plunkett “cocked” the hammer of his weapon, while continuing to point the weapon less than one foot from Mr. Sheppard’s temple.
It’s about this time that the videos a second deputy arriving at the location and joining Deputy Plunkett’s side. Deputy Rodriguez, as she was later identified, also had her weapon drawn, in a low ready position. A few moments later, Sergeant Hollis arrived at which point Mr. Sheppard informed Deputy Rodriguez and Sergeant Hollis of everything that had transpired to that point in time. Mr. Sheppard also advised Sergeant Hollis that he was “Code 5,” a reference to his work as a private investigator and the fact that he was actively involved in a legal investigation.
Through all of this, as the video shows, Deputy Plunkett continues to shake with his Beretta still pointed at Mr. Sheppard’s left temple. No one tells him to lower his weapon or to stand down.
Mr. Sheppard told Deputy Rodriguez and Sergeant Hollis that Deputy Plunkett still had his gun pointed at his head, despite the fact that Deputy Plunkett had neither identified nor articulated a crime in commission.
A second female deputy, later learned to be Deputy Hanson, approached the scene with Mr. Sheppard with her taser drawn. Deputy Plunkett continued to point his weapon, hand shaking, Mr. Sheppard’s left temple. Mr. Sheppard continued to strictly comply with all directives, to the best of his ability. He did have a gun pointed at his head and now a taser.
The video shows Sergeant finally advising Deputy Plunkett to stand down. Sergeant Hollis specifically asked Deputy Plunkett to explain what happened but Deputy Plunkett refuses to answer.
And while you might think that’s the end of the drama, it’s not.
Without a warrant, deputies attempted to inspect the contents of and even entered Mr. Sheppard’s vehicle. After his field frisk, Mr. Sheppard was placed into the backseat of Deputy Plunkett’s cruiser. It’s at this point that Deputy Hanson gets into the front seat of the cruiser and asks Mr. Sheppard what he was doing in the area because, according to her, Mr. Sheppard “did not belong in the area.”
Court documents and video would reveal that Los Angeles Sherriff’s deputies then actually conspired to fabricate charges on Mr. Sheppard after they realized that he was clean as was his vehicle.
“During the course of the next several minutes, the Deputies on scene conspired to concoct a citable offense against Mr. Sheppard. These law enforcement officials attempted to justify Deputy Plunkett’s actions, ex post facto. Most critically, Deputy Hanson and Deputy Ramirez drafted a citation that was ultimately signed by Deputy Plunkett. Neither Deputy Hanson nor Deputy Ramirez was willing to personally sign the citation, after engaging in a lengthy discussion concerning the contents of said citation. As she was attempting to creatively fashion charges to be brought against Mr. Sheppard within the aforementioned citation, Deputy Hanson stated, ‘please, just let me taser him!’”
None of this would be known today if Mr. Sheppard had not been a P.I. on a surveillance job. For whatever reason, once the deputies learned that he was a legitimate private investigator in the middle of a legal investigation—they never thought that he might have devices recording audio or video.
Mr. Sheppard was not arrested. He was given one ticket for tinted windows and no license plate. His Tahoe did have a temporary registration in the windshield and paper license plates on the back of the vehicle as required by law at the time of the incident.
On April 20, 2015, Mr. Sheppard filed a civil lawsuit in federal court for violation of his constitutional rights, assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and various other charges.
The trial took place last week in Los Angeles September 13 through September 15 before the Honorable S. James Otero. After hearing the evidence and viewing a small portion of the video evidence provided by Mr. Sheppard, a jury of 8 persons found in favor of the sheriff’s department.
Mr. Sheppard plans to appeal the verdict. He is currently working on the Suge Knight murder case and two high profile cases of deaths involving the Los Angeles Police Department—Ezell Ford who shot and killed in South L.A. in 2014 by the LAPD and Wakiesha Wilson who died while in the custody of the LAPD on Easter Sunday.
It is unknown whether any of the Crescenta Valley Station deputies on scene faced disciplinary action.
Federal Court Case No: 2:15-cv-02920-SJO-JC