Family of man killed by police files claim against Santa Maria

August 4, 2016

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Family members of a 31-year-old man who was shot and killed last month by Santa Maria police officers have filed a claim against the city. The family is seeking $3 million in damages and mandatory training for officers on handling incidents involving emotionally or mentally unstable individuals. [KEYT]

Javier Gaona was armed with a knife and reportedly suicidal when officers shot and killed him. Gaona’s family and many witnesses to the shooting have said it constituted excessive force, while the Santa Maria Police Department has told media that the shooting was justified.

On the morning of July 20, officers responded to a report of a man who was said have walked into a bank with a knife. Officers found Gaona in front of FoodsCo at 1465 S. Broadway.

Police attempted to negotiate with Gaona but did not succeed in convincing him to surrender. Officers fired several rounds of bean bags, but the less lethal munitions did not subdue Gaona.

The Santa Maria man then started stabbing himself, after which he charged at officers with the knife, according to the police department. Officers fired multiple bullets at Gaona while he was running with the knife, police say.

At a press conference Wednesday, Eric Schweitzer, an attorney representing Gaona’s family, disputed the police department’s account of the shooting. Schweitzer said Gaona did not rush or walk toward the officers. Rather, he stumbled forward while dazed from the bean bag rounds that had hit him. The more he stumbled, the more the officers shot him. Officers overreacted, and there was contagious fire, Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer also said at least a dozen officers were present at the time of the shooting, and Gaona was too far away to inflict great harm on police officers who could have fired bean bag rounds.

Gaona’s father said he wants justice for his son and for this not to happen to anyone else.

Multiple witnesses captured video of the shooting. Both the city and the attorneys representing the Gaona family are still reviewing video footage.

The family plans to file a lawsuit if the city denies the claim.

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I think it would be fair to judge the family of the deceased.. How much did they ‘care’ for him before this unfortunate incident? Or it is “he was shot by the police, now we care” kind of mentality?

Sorry, but its tiresome watching our municipalities getting financially raped in situations where families suddenly become ‘angry’ at the police when their neglected sons and daughters are hurt and there is money to be made.

He was upright and walking i dont know how to train old cops new tricks closest in range next to suv seemed ok to fire disabling non lethal penetrating fire but a squad not in range should prove the need for training what ever happened to their state of the art simulation devises they need to be trained as a team individual training for group responders fails repeatedly they need to know they use broadcasting devises and will be live to present them selves without overkilling people in commission of their crimes publicly

There’s nothing that makes me think the officers weren’t following approved protocol. The end results — a nab killed with about fifteen (15) shots at close range do make me question the protocol however.

Former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates wrote about this sort of situation. His comments were triggered by another psychotic individual with a knife who was shot by LAPD officers which was then followed by community uproar due in part to the fact she was black.

Gates said words to the effect that there are times when officers truly need to put their physical safety at risk and “wade in” to deal with such matters — they cannot simply shoot. He noted that when he was a rookie, he and his partner (who responded via a police car) faced a tough situation similar to this one.

Things were getting dicey until the local beat officer arrived on foot. He took out a lead sap (illegal today) and artfully knocked the psychotic individual out with it. There are grave dangers (to all parties) with this approach but it is considerably different than firing away (even if prefaced by bean bags, tasers, pepper spray, etc.)

We are quick to lionize our law enforcement officers. We are quick to point out they “risk their lives every day to keep us safe” yet there seems to be more exceptions to this all the time. We are quick to chant “returning to their famiies at the end of their tours is what’s most important”, yet I’m not sure that’s actually true.

Saving lives should be job #1. All human lives, even though who threaten us or appall us.

I’m not sure what sort of weapon or tactic might have been used instead of shooting the crazed individual in this case but I do know that attitudes and tactics do need to change, they need to evolve and that in some cases, law enforcement officers actually do need to put themselves in dangerous situations with the intention of saving lives.

FWIW, I’m not interested in hearing about 7 yard safety zones, Tueller Drills or just how heroic these police officers are. I’m interesting in finding attitudes (including bravery)/improved tactics/improves weapons that will help to save lives.