Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 2
Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Santa Maria Police
By DAVID MINSKY
The family of a man killed on July 20, 2016, formally filed a lawsuit against the Santa Maria Police Department, which is accused of negligence and excessive force in the shooting death of their relative.
Last year, 31-year-old Javier Gaona was killed in a police-involved shooting at the intersection of Broadway and Enos in downtown Santa Maria following a 30-minute standoff where Gaona held a knife to his own neck.
In the federal lawsuit filed on March 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Gaona’s family alleges that his constitutional rights were violated when police shot him to death.
Additionally, they believe Gaona was mentally disturbed and died as a result of the police officers’ “indifference and deliberate refusal” to use non-lethal force and instead used deadly force “without following proper procedures,” the lawsuit states.
At an impromptu press conference held on scene shortly after the shooting, Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin said that an FBI negotiator attempted to talk Gaona down for several minutes without success.
When that didn’t work, police tried to subdue Gaona by shooting him with several beanbag rounds. However, family attorney Eric Schweitzer told the Sun that only made matters worse.
Immediately after getting hit, the lawsuit states, Gaona began to stumble in various directions and then appeared to move toward the officers, which is when they opened fire on Gaona with lethal rounds, hitting him 14 times.
The shooting was seen by at least a dozen eyewitnesses, some of whom captured it on cell phone video. Gaona died a short time later at a local hospital.
Gaona wasn’t married and didn’t have any children. The family couldn’t be reached for comment.
Schweitzer said it was a case of contagious fire.
“You could’ve handled it a lot of other ways,” Schweitzer told the Sun. “They had him contained for 30 minutes, so what the hell went wrong? This is the 21st century. This is uncalled for.”
Chief Martin didn’t return the Sun’s phone calls before deadline. Police don’t typically comment on open cases. In the past, the department has referred questions regarding officer-involved shootings to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, which refused to comment on the case, citing an active investigation.
The investigation was turned over to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office, which has been reviewing the case since last summer but hasn’t yet released a report. The District Attorney’s office didn’t return the Sun’s phone calls before deadline, either.
The Santa Maria Police Department hasn’t officially named the officers involved in the shooting, which Schweitzer said is required by law. However, officers Ernie Salinas, Gabriel Alvarez, Will Jackson, Matt Holton, and Rafael Torres are all named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit criticized the police department and Sheriff’s Office for withholding information.
“The officers and their department control virtually all of the information concerning the shooting death of Javier,” the lawsuit states. “The investigation performed by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office will not be made public, nor will any report prepared by the Santa Maria Police Department.”
In addition to negligence and excessive force, Gaona’s family alleges battery from the beanbag rounds and that the police violated California’s Bane Act, which is meant to protect civil rights.
Gaona’s family seeks unspecified damages.
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