Last year, Vacaville police shot and killed a mentally ill Fairfield man. His family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the police department and the city, claiming that the police were aware that the 23-year-old man had a mental illness when they pursued him in a low-speed chase in July 2013. It further alleges that they used excessive force and questionable tactics that could be considered recklessly provocative, and that this force and those tactics led to the man’s death.
The victim was shot three times as he approached police officials. The officers involved in the shooting have indicated that he approached them in a threatening, aggressive manner and was carrying a knife and a framing hammer or crowbar. Other details provided by the police suggest that the man was acting in a bizarre manner and making threats. When speeding, he refused to pull over, and, as such, became involved in the low-speed chase.
The police used their vehicles stop the man with a ramming PIT maneuver. The young man was seen to lean over to the passenger’s side of the vehicle. He then allegedly got out carrying potential weapons. Some witnesses at the scene have stated that the man did not have anything in his hands at all. One officer fired five times, hitting the man in the arm, chest and hip.
The lawsuit alleges that the victim was shot a mere five seconds after exiting the vehicle, and that the police did not follow proper enforcement protocol and training on safe handling of an emotionally/mentally disturbed individual.
There are a number of unanswered questions and many allegations that do not appear to make sense. While the young man refused to pull over, the chase that ensued stayed at low speeds. There are distinct size and visual differences between a crowbar and framing hammer, and reports of the victim holding anything at all have been inconsistent. It is hard to predict what a court will decide, but in this wrongful death case, the man’s parents are hoping to send a message to the police department: they need to take responsibility for their actions and speak truthfully.