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April 20, 2024
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Scotts Valley officials discuss wrongful death lawsuit

During the Aug. 4 council meeting, city of Scotts Valley officials met in closed session to consult with legal counsel about a New Year’s Eve suicide.

Elizabeth Caballero, the lawyer for surviving daughters Paige and Lindsey Smith, says 59-year-old Shari Smith would still be alive today if her boyfriend, retired Scotts Valley Police Department officer Henry Bidleman, hadn’t left a loaded, and unlocked, .38 caliber revolver under a mattress, according to court papers.

“Henry Bidleman, as a retired Scotts Valley police officer, possessed a heightened level of training in and awareness of firearm safety, of the dangers of loaded and unlocked firearms, of the prevalence of the use of firearms in suicide and of firearm laws,” reads the civil complaint filed March 4, 2021 in Santa Cruz County Superior Court. “But for defendant Henry Bidleman’s failure to keep his firearm in an unloaded and locked area then Shari Smith would not have died.”

Caballero declined an interview request. The defendants were given an extension until August to respond to the lawsuit.

While SVPD Chief Steve Walpole Jr. is named in the suit, he isn’t listed as a defendant. The city of Scotts Valley isn’t named as a defendant, either.

On Dec. 31, Shari, an in-home health care nurse, and her boyfriend were partying at the Navarra Drive house, owned by Henry Bidleman Jr. (the other defendant), where they’d lived for about three years, when they got into an argument over what to cook for dinner, according to the lawsuit.

“Go to your room,” Henry demanded, the suit alleges, characterizing how Shari ended up in the second-floor bathroom where she was found with a single gunshot to the head.

Her boyfriend waited 45 minutes to report her death, and when he did, he used a special dispatch line that only police have access to, per the suit, which adds he told his former employer not to bother sending an ambulance.

“Henry Bidleman knew that Shari Smith had consumed cannabis and had been drinking heavily that evening,” reads the complaint, which notes an autopsy found her blood alcohol content at .239, alongside valium and cannabis in her system. “Steve Walpole Jr., Chief of Scotts Valley Police Department, personally arrived on scene and remained at the residence for approximately five minutes. During that time Chief Walpole consulted with his officers.”

Her death was ruled a suicide Feb. 5, 2021, the court papers said.

The family is claiming negligence and wrongful death, and is demanding a jury trial.

Last month, Judge Timothy Volkmann directed Caballero to file a “stipulation and order” so the gun can be analyzed, according to the minutes of the June 2 hearing.

The next court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 16 in Santa Cruz.

The “Shari Smith’s Memorial Fund” GoFundMe has raised $7,150, so far.

“She was compassionate in her work as a caregiver and an advocate and lover of animals of all species,” wrote organizer Chanel Adams. “Shari was one of the kindest, most genuine and sincere souls that we had the pleasure of sharing this life on Earth with.”

Scotts Valley officials scheduled to be present during the Aug. 4 meeting were the city manager, the city attorney and the administrative services director.

“The City received a claim from the Smith family and that was the matter discussed by Council in closed session,” City Attorney Kirsten M. Powell, of Logan & Powell, LLP, said in a statement. “The City has not been named in the lawsuit to my knowledge.”

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