Lawsuit accuses SLO attorney of negligence that led to shooting spree

Robert Bettencourt


Three people who suffered losses during a shooting spree in Paso Robles are suing a San Luis Obispo attorney for storing firearms and ammunition in an unlocked and accessible location in his law office.

Before going on a 2020 shooting spree in Paso Robles, Mason Lira burglarized attorney Robert Bettencourt’s office. Lira entered the building on the 900 block of Osos Street through an unlocked window and left with a .38 caliber revolver, a 40 caliber semi-automatic handgun and an unknown amount of ammunition.

Lira ambushed the Paso Robles Police Department three days later, firing shots at officers and staff, who allegedly hid inside the department while requesting backup.

Deputy Nicholas Dreyfus and another deputy went to assist in the manhunt. While the two deputies searched the downtown area, Lira shot Dreyfus in the face. Lira then shot and killed 59-year-old James Watson near the train station.

Dreyfus, his wife Tyler Dreyfus, and James Watson’s son Johnny Watson filed a personal injury, loss of consortium and wrongful death lawsuit against Bettencourt on June 3.

“The conduct of defendant Bettencourt, in failing to lock firearms and ammunition in a reasonable, safe and prudent manner, was a substantial factor in causing the injuries and damages suffered by Nicholas Dreyfus and Tyler Dreyfus and was a substantial factor in causing the death of James Watson and by consequence, the wrongful damages suffered by Johnny Watson,” according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to allow them to also name the City of Paso Robles as a plaintiff, noting that if not for the negligence of officers, Lira likely would have been stopped at the police station.

“The police officers’ negligent acts and failures to act did not occur during the exercise of any of their discretionary duties because failing to engage a suspect who is on a public shooting spree when that suspect is outnumbered by police and the police officers have superior weapons, communications devices and tactical positioning, is not a basic policy of the police,” according to the lawsuit.

Over the span of a day and a half, Lira shot Watson, Dreyfus, an Arroyo Grand police officer, a California Highway Patrol officer and a Kings County Sheriff’s deputy.

Following the shooting, Dreyfus was flown to a trauma center out of the area where he underwent surgery for his injuries. The following day, deputies shot and killed Lira.