SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Highway Patrol has agreed to pay nearly $4 million to settle a lawsuit that said the agency was responsible for an officer who killed his estranged wife, wounded her lover and then killed himself in 2018.
The CHP had temporarily taken away Brad Wheat's service handgun after he made violent threats during his crumbling marriage but later returned the weapon, which was used in the attack, attorneys said. The shooting killed Mary Wheat, 42.
The settlement agreement came several weeks before the scheduled June 7 start of the lawsuit trial, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Trae deBeaubien, who survived being shot in the upper chest, filed the lawsuit.
He was glad to put the case behind him and “that the CHP finally did the right thing in admitting they messed up," deBeaubien said in a statement Tuesday to the Bee.
“Hopefully, the CHP re-evaluate their procedures on officers with mental issues,” he added.
A CHP spokeswoman declined comment Tuesday because the final settlement documents hadn't been filed with the court, the Bee said.
His lawsuit alleged that Wheat, 45, had stalked the couple and used law enforcement databases to help “hunt him down."
According to court documents, Wheat, an 11-year CHP veteran, told a colleague on Aug. 3, 2018, that he planned to kill deBeaubien, whom Mary Wheat had been dating, and then take his own life.
Wheat was persuaded to hand over two rifles and a shotgun and leave his .40-caliber handgun at work while he took two weeks off, according to court documents cited by the Bee.
In court depositions, CHP officials also said Wheat’s remark that he planned to kill deBeaubien didn’t constitute a crime.
Two therapists retained by the CHP met separately with Wheat and determined that he wasn't a danger to himself or others and could carry out desk duties, according to court papers.
The therapists were also sued and their insurers will pay $975,000.
The CHP never warned Wheat's wife or deBeaubien about the officer's comments and returned his handgun when he reported back to work on Aug. 20, according to court papers.
In court filings, CHP officials said they lacked the authority to seize the gun.
Two weeks later, Wheat confronted the couple at deBeaubien’s nutrition shop in Sutter Creek, southeast of Sacramento, shooting out the front window, walking inside and shooting deBeaubien.
The wounded deBeaubien twice tackled Wheat but couldn't hold him because his hands were slippery with blood, and Mary Wheat grabbed her husband's handgun and ran outside, he told the Bee in 2019.
In the parking lot outside the store, Wheat got back his gun and shot his wife three times, then killed himself. The couple had four children.