SACRAMENTO – In one of the largest court settlements of its kind in Placer County history, officials have agreed to pay $9.9 million over the January 2018 shooting by a deputy that left a Bay Area computer software engineer paralyzed for life.
The settlement agreement resolves – without the county acknowledging wrongdoing – a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last year on behalf of Samuel Kolb, a 50-year-old San Mateo man who was shot inside a Lake Tahoe cabin twice while he was in a dazed state and holding a 10-inch barbecue fork, court records say.
Kolb, who once led an active life of skiing, swimming, soccer refereeing and playing Ultimate Frisbee in a semi-professional league, says the incident “has basically completely upended my life” and left him in chronic pain and paralyzed from the navel down.
“I would trade the money in a minute for never having had this experience,” Kolb said in a phone interview with The Sacramento Bee this week.
The Placer County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the settlement agreement.
“The Placer County Sheriff’s Office does not have anything further to say about Mr. Kolb’s case,” spokeswoman Angela Musallam wrote in an email statement.
Kolb’s Pasadena attorney, Ronald O. Kaye, who was appointed last month by Gov. Gavin Newsom to be a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, also declined comment.
But court filings by Kaye describe an incident that began with a call to 911 by Kolb’s 16-year-old son seeking medical attention for his father, then spiraled into him watching Deputy Curtis Honeycutt shoot his father twice at close range.
That was followed by a Placer sheriff’s detective secretly recording the teen as he drove him 18 miles to the Truckee Police Department, where he placed the boy’s phone in “airplane mode” to keep his mother from being able to reach him – despite the boy’s grandfather insisting no one interview him until his mother showed up, court records say.
With the recording continuing, the detective got out of the car and called a supervisor, court records say.
“I probably got 5 minutes ‘til the mom shows up and takes the son,” Placer sheriff’s Detective Andrew Lyssand whispers into his phone, according to court records. “I’m gonna start interviewing him right now.”
The case had been scheduled to go to trial in federal court in Sacramento until it was dismissed Tuesday as a result of the settlement, which will provide $5.75 million to Kolb and more than $4.1 million to his attorneys, the county says.
Placer County will pay out $1 million of the settlement, with the remainder covered by the county’s insurance carriers.
The case began with a Jan. 13, 2018, ski getaway by Kolb and his son, identified in court papers as “J.K.,” at a friend’s cabin in Carnelian Bay.
“That evening, Mr. Kolb smoked marijuana with J.K. and the two of them went to sleep,” court records say. “This was the first time that the father and son smoked marijuana together.
“In the early morning hours of January 14, 2018, Mr. Kolb woke up and began suffering from a mental health episode, walking around the cabin and waking his son, J.K.”
Kolb had suffered similar episodes since 1998, with a medical professional advising him after one in 2002 that he may have temporal lobe epilepsy, court filings say.
“I woke up feeling disoriented and still in a dreamlike state,” Kolb said in the interview. “I don’t really remember what happened that night, only bits and pieces.”
Kolb “kept repeating his childhood address and making nonsensical statements,” court filings say, and his son eventually called 911 after asking his father if he needed medical attention.
Honeycutt, a 20-year law enforcement veteran, got the call at 3:55 a.m. and arrived at the High Street cabin to find Kolb and his son standing outside in the cold, court filings say.
Kolb was dressed only in a T-shirt and pajama bottoms and was looking forward blankly “as if he was staring out in space,” court records say.
Honeycutt suggested they go inside the cabin to keep Kolb warm while they waited for paramedics to arrive, court filings say.
Once inside, Honeycutt tried turning on lights inside the darkened cabin, but the switch did not work and he used his flashlight to illuminate the space, court records say.
“Within seconds upon entering the cabin, Samuel Kolb approached Honeycutt holding a tonged barbecue fork,” according to a court filing by the county’s attorneys.
Kolb made an “attack noise” while approaching the deputy with the fork pointing up. The deputy backed away, then called a dispatcher to say “he just tried to stab me,” the county’s lawyers said in a filing.
“With Samuel Kolb approximately two feet away, holding the BBQ fork in his right hand pointed up, Honeycutt immediately drew his service weapon and fired twice in the direction of Samuel Kolb,” the county’s lawyers wrote, adding that the deputy then called for medical help and began performing CPR.
Kolb’s lawyer describes a scene in his filings in which the deputy, wearing a Kevlar vest and armed with a Taser, gave no warning as Kolb “slowly moved the fork toward him in a dream-like manner, with little to no force and not violently” and touched Honeycutt with the fork.
Honeycutt later testified in a deposition that he did not retreat out the cabin door because he was “trying to figure out what the hell just happened and what did he just do,” court filings say.
Kolb turned away from the deputy, then began moving toward the door with the fork held “in the direction of the sink and the stove, not in the direction of Honeycutt,” court papers say.
“When Kolb was between 1.2 (and) 3.7 feet away from Honeycutt, with his left side facing Honeycutt, Honeycutt discharged his firearm twice into Kolb’s body: once into his left side, which shot through his body and lodged in the chair across the room, and once in Kolb’s back, by his left scapula area,” court papers say.
Kolb’s son said the “attack noise” his father made did not sound threatening, that he thought “that his father was in a dream, like a character in a video game,” court records say.
Once he saw his father shot, J.K. asked, “Why did you shoot him? Why did you shoot him? Dad. Oh my God. ... It was a fork, dude.”
As other deputies arrived, Honeycutt told one to watch out because “the fork” was at his feet court papers say.
Later, however, Honeycutt had a different recollection, court papers say.
“After talking to his attorney three times, meeting with multiple investigators of the PCSO and the DA’s office doing a scene walk through, in an interview 30 hours after the shooting, Honeycutt reported that he perceived that it was a knife,” court filings say.
Kolb was taken to a hospital for treatment and eventually charged with a felony count of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer and a count of child endangerment.
The case ended with him pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of brandishing a weapon and receiving three years’ probation.
After the shooting, as Kolb was being taken for medical care, his son was interviewed by a deputy, then locked inside a sheriff’s vehicle where his cellphone conversations with his grandfather and his mother – who was driving from San Mateo to Lake Tahoe – were secretly recorded, court papers say.
J.K. was taken to the sheriff’s Burton Creek substation a few minutes from the cabin, ostensibly to await the arrival of his mother, court papers say.
Detective Lyssand, following the orders of a supervisor, then “picked up J.K. and transported him to the Truckee Police Station, a police department which is unaffiliated with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office,” court papers say.
“I’m not stipulating to being interviewed as this may involve a lawsuit,” J.K. told Lyssand, according to court papers.
“Shortly after saying this, Detective Lyssand activated his digital tape recorder and began secretly audio-tape recording his interview of J.K.,” court papers say. “At no point during the drive to the Truckee Police Station did Detective Lyssand advise J.K. that he was audio taping him, nor did J.K. ever consent to such recording.”
Once in Truckee, Lyssand told J.K. to place his phone in airplane mode “to prevent J.K. from communicating with his mother, and thereby prevent her from interfering with his interview of J.K.,” court papers say.
“One of the officers tried to get him to say (Kolb) was holding a knife,” Kolb said in the interview. “Right after I was shot, my son exclaimed, ‘It was a fork, dude.’
“I believe it was to try to get him to change his story and support his narrative that I was attacking Deputy Honeycutt.”
Kolb said he knew nothing of this until much later.
“I was pretty consumed with trying not to die,” he said. “I had a collapsed lung, I had internal bleeding. I got a pulmonary embolism that almost killed me. I’ve had a couple different infections that almost killed me.
“It was not clear that I was going to live.”
Since the shooting, Kolb has recovered – somewhat – but says his life will never be the same.
“I have chronic pain,” Kolb said. “I didn’t take regular medications at all before, no regular medications. I watched what I ate. I was on a keto diet.
“And so now I have to use catheters to empty my bladder. I have a colostomy, a hole in my belly. ... I can’t do any of the sports I used to do.”
His son, who witnessed the shooting, has had to deal with the fallout of what he saw, as well.
“He’s had trauma, he’s had nightmares and anxiety,” Kolb said. “He’s been in therapy since this happened.”
But Kolb says the shooting has left him with a desire to advocate for police reforms, and that he is grateful he has been able to continue working.