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Friday, July 10, 2009 | Lowell Bruce, a deputy sheriff who fatally shot his wife in their Alpine home in 2006, twice failed the county’s psychological evaluations and was rejected for employment by eight other law enforcement agencies, but was ultimately hired by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department anyway.
According to 1993 employment applications, rejection letters from the county of San Diego and other documents contained in a 2007 wrongful death lawsuit filed by his wife’s parents, Bruce was told his history of violence was the reason he failed the exams and would not be hired.
Nonetheless, in 1998, five years after failing the evaluations, Bruce became a deputy assigned to the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility in Santee.
“The county clearly understood and appreciated that he was unfit for duty and prone to violence, but hired him anyway,” the 2007 lawsuit said. “Not only did the county recklessly hire Bruce, but thereafter provided him with a Glock handgun, and allowed him to take it home with him … Bruce was permitted to take that weapon home, and as a result, at least six lives were forever altered.”
Those lives included Bruce and his wife, Kristin Marie Maxwell-Bruce, 38, their two young boys, and her parents, Jim and Kay Maxwell.
However, during pretrial motions in June 2008, U.S. District Judge John Houston dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that the county was negligent in hiring Bruce as a deputy. Houston agreed with the county that Bruce “already had psychological issues before the county hired him and that he would have had the same issues whether or not the county hired him.”
The psychological evaluations showed a history of physical violence and that Bruce “would tend to resort to violence as a way of resolving interpersonal differences with others,” the lawsuit said.
On the second evaluation, which Bruce instigated as part of an appeal, the private psychologist who contracted with the county to perform the evaluation informed him in a rejection letter: “My recommendation, in part, was made due to your history of physical altercations with others and test results which suggest that you lack more creative ways of resolving differences with others. In a corrections setting this behavior and the lack of other means to resolve interpersonal problems, would not be successful.”
He was then rejected by the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego Harbor Police, Chula Vista Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Police Department and three public safety agencies in Washington State, according to the county application.
The documents were found by friends of the Maxwells who assisted them in sifting through Bruce’s belongings in the weeks after the shooting.
Despite having the knowledge that Bruce failed the psychological test twice, and being rejected by at least eight other law enforcement agencies, he was still ultimately hired by the Sheriff’s Department, and went on to fatally shoot his wife, the plaintiff’s complaint said.
The lawsuit alleges the Sheriff’s Department’s of “careless and reckless hiring policies or practices led to the issuing of a gun to Bruce, which then led to the death of Kristin.”
But according to Judge Houston there is no direct link between the county’s screening process for hiring purposes and the death of Kristin.
The plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the shooting was “a plainly obvious consequence of the hiring decision,” a threshold that was established in 1997 by the U.S. Supreme Court, Houston said.
Kelly Thornton is a San Diego-based freelance writer. Please contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.