Dourson’s bold moves to tackle and disarm a man who put a loaded handgun in his face during an attempted robbery made national news in February 2011. But Dourson said he is disappointed with a plea deal the prosecutor’s office made in November.
In the plea deal, Thomas Scott Ruth, 23, admitted to two counts of attempted robbery and that he had used a dangerous weapon. It was unclear if the weapon he admitted to having used was pepper spray or the loaded handgun. Five other felonies were dismissed in the deal, including assault charges for spraying both the shop owner and his employee with tear gas in the course of the midnight scuffle. Court paperwork is unclear as to whether Ruth admitted to the special allegation of using a firearm during an attempted robbery.
Both Dourson and his employee Patrick Clemons said that a man wearing a knit mask pointed a gun at them and said, “Give me the money!” Dourson claims he said, “What money?” and then was peppersprayed. Dourson made his way to the cash register; he managed to dial 911 as he passed a wall phone. When the robber began to wave his gun around, Dourson decided to tackle him. Both Dourson and Clemons said they wrestled the would-be robber onto the tiled floor and took his pepper spray and handgun. BBs and pellets spilled out of the gun. Some ammunition rolled under the nearby pizza oven.
“He kept saying, ‘All right, all right, I’ll just leave,’” Dourson said. “But I said, ‘No, man, the cops are going to escort you out.’”
Clemons was so annoyed, he tried to pepper-spray the attacker with his own weapon, but Clemons couldn’t work out how to use the can, so he threw it away.
Dourson said he pulled the ski mask off the offender as soon as they had him on the floor, but he did not recognize Thomas Scott Ruth. “Thank God it was a 22-year-old spoiled brat from La Costa and not a real criminal,” Dourson later said.
The Would-Be Robber Confessed, Carlsbad Cop Said
Carlsbad police officer Shaun Lawton arrived on the scene to find Ruth restrained on the floor. “I immediately handcuffed him,” he said. The officer described the gun recovered as a CO2-powered pellet pistol in the style of a Beretta semi-automatic.
After he took the bloodied Ruth away from the pizza-shop workers, Officer Lawton asked Ruth if he’d planned the crime or if it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. at a preliminary hearing, the officer testified that Ruth told him it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.
Ruth was ordered to face all seven felonies at the end of his hearing in June.
He received a moving violation while out on bail in August. He gave an address in the 3000 block of Calle del Sur in Carlsbad — this is La Costa, an upscale part of San Diego County.
Dourson now complains that Ruth has received “rich man” justice. The restaurateur, who works the overnight shift in his pizza shop every night, can’t understand why the robbery case was not continued to a trial. Dourson wants the man who stuck a gun in his face and pepper-sprayed him convicted of all seven felonies he was charged with.
“The robber got a sweetheart deal,” Dourson said. “I don’t think that Thomas Scott Ruth thinks there are consequences for his actions. And this case is proving it.” Dourson claims the plea deal was intended to be completed on October 26 — as a gift for Thomas Scott Ruth’s birthday — but that because journalists got word of it, the deal was delayed.
About a month after Scott was first brought to court, the specific charge of attempted robbery against Mychal Dourson as the named victim was dropped, in an “amended” complaint filed March 30, 2011. This reduced the felony count to six. Inquiries were made, and Dourson says the district attorney’s office says it was a clerical error. This “error” was corrected June 30, when a “second amended complaint” was filed, and the missing felony was restored.
“I feel completely betrayed by the district attorney’s office. We didn’t even get a chance in the justice system. They stole my opportunity for justice.”
Dourson has had as many as ten phone conversations with persons in the prosecutor’s office. “I fought for months to stop this plea deal, but it was futile, against the wishes of the DA’s office.”
He was told that prosecutors “cannot force the defendant to go to trial,” and “there’s nothing I can do,” and “the decision came down from the branch chief.” (A person with the DA’s office said that Summer Stephan is the current chief of the DA’s North County branch.)
Clemons is also disappointed. “The plea deal saddens me but doesn’t surprise me much. What small faith I had in the fairness of the justice system waved its final goodbye…’cause I guarantee [that] if Ruth was poor and a minority, justice would’ve already been dealt — with a much heavier hand.”
“This whole situation stinks,” Clemons concluded. He and his boss have been friends for 17 years and have worked together making pizzas for ten. Both men were 36 years old at the time of the robbery.
It does appear that this case may have been passed around like a hot potato. In less than one year, several different deputy district attorneys have been assigned to the case, including Aimee McLeod, Christine Ryan, Brooke Tafreshi, and Brock Arstill.
At the sentencing hearing on February 2, 2012, judge Daniel Goldstein ordered Thomas Ruth to serve 365 days for each of the two felony attempted-robbery charges that he admitted; time is to be served consecutively and in county jail, not state prison. But then the judge suspended that sentence and granted the defendant three years of formal probation. Judge Goldstein ordered Ruth into a residential treatment program and to report to a probation officer within 72 hours of his release from custody. ■