Victim sues sheriff’s department, sheriff for protecting abusive deputy

Jennifer Hillan files federal lawsuit claiming Sheriff Boudreaux, other officers protected Sgt. Richard Ramirez while he stalked, harassed and abused her for more than a year

TULARE COUNTY – A woman who was abused by a Tulare County Sheriff’s deputy for over a year claims her abuser was protected by fellow deputies, and possibly Sheriff Mike Boudreaux himself, according to a civil suit filed against them in federal court.

Jennifer Hillan, the woman who was stalked, harassed, intimidated and beaten by Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Ramirez, filed an amended complaint against her former boyfriend on May 18 after he was convicted on domestic violence and witness intimidation charges on May 10.

“Ramirez carried out an ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, stalking, and unlawful detention against the Plaintiff from 2018- 2019, while acting in the course and scope of his employment, and under color of authority,” stated the case filed in federal court on March 15.

Hillan claims each time she reported Ramirez’s behavior between May 2018 and July 2019 to the Sheriff’s Department he would immediately confront her, meaning he was being informed of the calls. As long as she lived in Tulare County, Hillan claims Ramirez told her she would be physically punished if she followed up with reports against him. The lawsuit says Ramirez, who was known as “Teflon Rich” within the department, felt he was above the law because he was protected by his fellow officers “who ignored, belittled, or were indifferent to, [Hillan’s] reports and requests for assistance.”

Hillan’s attorney, William Schmidt, said his client’s civil rights were violated not only by Ramirez, but the officers she attempted to report the crimes to and even Sheriff Boudreaux for failing to hold Ramirez responsible for his crimes and his fellow officers accountable for covering them up.

“We intend to prove that this is a pattern and course of conduct of the sheriff’s department,” Schmidt said. “We believe Sheriff Boudreaux himself knew about this. We know there were times when Miss Hillan would report to the sheriff’s office what was going on and that information made it directly to Richard Ramirez.”

Hillan and Ramirez began dating in 2011 and were dating on and off until late 2018. Each time Hillan threatened to leave, Ramirez threatened a murder-suicide in efforts to keep Hillan in the relationship, according to court documents. In May 2018, Ramirez walked into Hillan’s home while on duty and in uniform and beat her in front of her daughter before knocking her unconscious. When she regained consciousness, Ramirez allegedly pulled out his gun, pointed it to his chest and said, “I’m done, it’s over” before walking outside and discharging the weapon. Fearing he had shot himself, Hillan immediately ran outside to find Ramirez laughing and said, “You thought I killed myself.”

He frequently told her if she reported his abusive behavior to the department “bad things would happen to (her)” but said nothing would happen to him. Hillan broke off the relationship in April 2019 and began dating another man. Ramirez then called the new boyfriend saying he knew about the boyfriend’s criminal past, where the man lived and said he was Hillan’s boyfriend and that the other guy should stay away.

That same month, on April 15, 2019, Ramirez was on duty and in uniform when he walked into Hillan’s place of employment, walked past the receptionist, and into her office. He allegedly slammed Hillan’s head with a cell phone and barred her from leaving the room. He then left and sat outside the window of the office in his county vehicle for more than an hour. A coworker told Hillan to call the police which she replied, “I can’t, he is the police.”

Following the incident, TCSO investigators interviewed Hillan’s co-workers who witnessed the exchange. The day after the incident, a TCSO lieutenant interviewed her and allegedly said “I know Rich is protected” and that it would be a conflict for TCSO to investigate her claims.

The filing states, “[Hillan] felt that she could not tell anyone what happened, especially law enforcement, because all previous reports had failed to elicit any disciplinary action, even verbal censure, against Ramirez, and had, instead, been relayed to Ramirez, who retaliated against [Hillan] by further assaults.”

Sgt. Mike Verrissimo, public information officer for the Visalia Police Department, said the Sheriff’s Office contacted VPD shortly after the incident in April 2019 to take over the investigation of Ramirez.

On April 17, 2019, Hillan said she did an initial interview with the Visalia Police Department about Ramirez’s abuse of power and physical abuse of her. A second interview was scheduled for April 19. The day of the interview, Ramirez pulled over Hillan while in his patrol vehicle and said “I know you have an interview. You’d better be quiet.” He also told her he would be interviewed regarding the incident an hour earlier but in the next room at the same location. With Ramirez in the next room and fearing his threats of abuse, Hillan told the VPD officer that the strike to her head with the cell phone was “an accident.”

In July 2019, Hillan was contacted by a TCSO internal affairs investigator and was warned Ramirez would be told about everything she shared with the investigator and that the department considered her as “just a jealous girlfriend,” a “liar” and that she was “nuts.” The investigator allegedly said her reports that Ramirez battered, stalked and threatened her were closing and that no action would be taken because Ramirez was not at fault.

On Sept. 5, 2019, the Visalia Police Department arrested Ramirez on charges of dissuading a witness and domestic violence. The District Attorney’s Office simultaneously sequestered Hillan to an undisclosed location in Santa Barbara after concluding her longstanding fear of retaliation was real and legitimate. The lawsuit asserts the entire department was aware of Ramirez’s propensity for violence against women he dates and that alerting him to those reports would motivate Ramirez to retaliate against Hillan.

“While victims of domestic violence in the County of Tulare who are not in a relationship with TCSO members are given the full protection of the official standards regarding domestic violence, when [Hillan] and similarly situated women in domestic relationships with TCSO members report abuse, they are belittled, called liars, or accused of being mentally unbalanced,” the civil suit states.

The filing also calls out Boudreaux for his promise to investigate all domestic violence reports following the announcement the Sheriff’s Department had received a $450,000 grant to fund the “High Risk Domestic Violence Assessment Team.” As part of the grant, Boudreaux made statements that said anyone reporting domestic violence would be asked a series of questions, known as the Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement (DA-LE) to determine if the violence was likely to escalate. Hillan claims she was not given the DA-LE assessment until July 2019, when Ramirez was arrested, despite verbal complaints and reports of domestic violence dating back to May 2018.

The federal lawsuit contends Ramirez violated her 4th Amendment rights against unlawful seizure when he invaded her business and home without a warrant or probable cause a crime had been committed and her 14th Amendment rights when he unlawfully and forcibly detained her. It further alleges Ramirez, Boudreaux and the entire department violated her 1st Amendment rights to report a crime without fear of retaliation, and her civil rights by ignoring her complaints and pleas for help and neglecting to act on them.

It goes on to say Bouedreaux and the department did not adequately discipline deputies who it knew to be violent and did not adequately train deputies with respect to seizures and use of force.

“[T]hese Defendants condoned, tolerated, and through their actions and inactions thereby ratified such policies. The actions of the named Defendants … were willful, wanton, oppressive, malicious, fraudulent, extremely offensive, and unconscionable to any person of normal sensibilities, and done while they were acting under color of law.”

Boudreaux and the Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment but did issue the following statement when Ramirez was arrested in September 2019: “Because this is a criminal investigation, Sheriff Boudreaux cannot comment any further. However, the Sheriff will always hold the personnel of the Sheriff’s Office to the highest of standards.”

Hillan is suing for compensatory damages, punitive damages and court costs and attorney fees. Schmidt said the incidents involving Ramirez mentioned in the civil suit have been fortified by his conviction and establish a pattern of abuse and cover up not only regarding Hillan but also Ramirez’s wife between October and November 2008. Ramirez was convicted by a Tulare County jury of two misdemeanor counts of battery of his former wife and was charged with raping her, although the jury convicted on the lesser charge of misdemeanor battery. Ramirez is scheduled for sentencing on June 30 and faces up to six years and four months in state prison. He is currently being held in the Kings County Jail.

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