SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A groundbreaking set of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of a local Navy mother who says that state and federal officials allowed a mentally ill veteran to legally purchase a gun which he allegedly used to murder her daughter.
Veteran Eduardo Arriola is accused of shooting and killing neighbor Devon Rideout while she was walking her puppy outside of her Oceanside apartment in 2018. The revolver he used was legally purchased from a local gun store.
"Her life was just taken, taken away for no reason," cried her mother, Leslie Woods. Woods is now suing both the California Department of Justice and the federal Department of Defense for negligence and wrongful death.
She recently walked ABC 10News through her home which is now covered with memories of her daughter. Rideout was a 24-year-old Navy hospital corpsman.
"Although the trigger was pulled by Eduardo Arriola, we still say that there is blood on the hands of state and federal government," attorney Gene Iredale told ABC 10News.
He said that the problem traces back to the federal firearms database known as "NICS" which is checked every time a buyer wants to purchase a gun in order to make sure the buyer is allowed to have a gun.
While Arriola was still enlisted in the Marines in 2016, he went AWOL and deserted his command.
According to one of the lawsuits, after he turned himself in, "Arriola was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed for mental health treatment in an attempt to restore his competency after he had been adjudicated mentally incompetent to stand trial for desertion in a military court-martial."
He was then discharged from the military.
Iredale said that it's required by law to report anyone who is prohibited by federal or state law from buying or having a gun due to mental incompetence or commitment, including those who are found mentally incompetent to stand trial.
The Department of Defense, which oversees the military, knew that Arriola should have been prohibited from getting a gun but failed to update the federal firearms database, according to the lawsuit.
When Arriola went to buy the gun, it alerted officials at the California Department of Justice, who check the database before allowing gun sales to continue.
Iredale shared copies of an email that he received from the tort claims lawyer for the federal government. It shows that an employee from the California Department of Justice emailed the military, stating that Arriola is "attempting to purchase firearms".
In the email, the employee asks the military for more information on the type of court martial he had after being arrested for going AWOL. The military writes back in part that Arriola was "found incompetent to stand trial by courts-martial."
The email references an attached document from the facility where he had been committed for evaluation.
Iredale added, "The federal government had an obligation to communicate clearly and succinctly and say, 'No gun'." However, he said that the California Department of Justice still allowed the sale of the gun to go through.
Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe is prosecuting the case. "He was diagnosed schizophrenic and was discharged from the military as a result of his mental illness and should not have been able to purchase a firearm," he told ABC 10News during a court hearing late last year.
Woods is now demanding change and accountability. "If things were put in place the way they were supposed to be with the background check, [my daughter] would still be alive," she added.
ABC 10News reached out to the Department of Defense and the California Department of Justice for responses to the lawsuits.
As of the late afternoon on Wednesday, ABC10News did not receive a response from the Department of Defense.
The California Department of Justice wrote back, "Thanks for reaching out. Our office has not yet been served with the complaint. We'll follow up if there is anything further we can provide."
Arriola's case was supposed to go to trial last week but it has been pushed back. He will now undergo a fourth mental competency hearing before trial.