Family of man killed by police sues Santa Maria

March 15, 2017

The family of a man who was shot and killed last year by Santa Maria police officers has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, as well as its police department and five officers.

Javier Gaona, 31, was armed with a knife and reportedly suicidal when officers shot and killed him on July 20, 2016. Gaona’s family, as well as many witnesses to the shooting, said it constituted excessive force, while the Santa Mara Police Department has maintained that the shooting was justified.

A lawsuit filed this week by Fresno County attorneys William Schmidt and Eric Schweitzer states Santa Maria officers observed Gaona cutting himself with a knife and stating he wanted police to kill him. Officers surrounded Gaona and, without any warning, started shooting him with bean bag rounds, according to the lawsuit.

Gaona was not threatening anyone at the time, and the bean bag rounds exasperated the situation, causing the man to stumble in various directions and move toward the officers. Police then fired live ammunition, striking Gaona 14 times, the lawsuit states.

The suit alleges police made no effort to use crisis intervention tactics nor a trained negotiator and/or a mental health professional. Nor did officers use words, a taser, a police dog, a distraction or time to deescalate the situation, the lawsuit alleges.

“Reasonable officers would not have concluded that Javier, isolated and surrounded by a throng of heavily armed law enforcement officers and their patrol cars, posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to any individual other than perhaps himself,” the lawsuit states.

The suit alleges excessive force, unlawful seizure, battery and negligence. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges Santa Maria officers are improperly trained in crisis intervention, and the police department has a policy of permitting excessive force and unlawful seizure.

Following the shooting, the Santa Maria Police Department said its officers did try to negotiate with Goana. But, officers did not succeed in convincing him to surrender.

Officers then fired several rounds of bean bags, but the less lethal munitions did not subdue Gaona, according to the police department’s account of the events.

The 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 said.

Multiple witnesses captured video footage of the shooting. The footage shows officers positioned behind patrol vehicles and Gaona stumbling as police shot him.

During the incident, a crowd of onlookers was watching from across the street. After officers shot Gaona, the crowd reacted angrily, accusing police of excessive force and murder.

Gaona’s family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as reimbursement for legal costs. Prior to filing the lawsuit, Gaona’s family filed a claim against the city seeking $3 million in damages, as well as mandatory training for officers on handling incidents involving emotionally or mentally unstable individuals.

 







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10 Comments

  1. CentralcoastRN says:

    The problem with this scenario is that I don’t see any mental health professionals on the scene. Police are not trained to de-escalate human beings. They shoot them, as evidenced by this video. Did the guy REALLY need to be shot 14 times?? Maybe the guy was having a medical or mental health emergency. They KILLED a man, and they didn’t just shoot him 1,2,3 times. They didn’t stop at 4,5,6 times. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14 times. Why?

    We have a public health emergency on society’s hands right now, and I am a fiscal conservative saying this. People with mental health issues do not have adequate access to care. Are we going to start shooting combative Alzheimer’s patients next?

    I honestly want to know what was done to try and calm this guy down before shooting him 14 freaking times. He might look like some crazy jerk to the layperson, but to someone else, he was a son, brother, etc.

    I have been a nurse for 20 years. I have seen people go from being TOTALLY confused to normal, polite members of society. WITH THE PROPER CARE AND TREATMENT. I wish I could see how this whole thing went down. If he was disoriented and they did nothing to calm this man down, that is a problem. These officers need more training before they take a life. If we as hospital staffed shot to kill every person that behaved aggressively when in a confused state, half the ER would be empty.

    I am saying that police need more training. Even if shooting this man was deemed necessary, 14 bullet holes does not leave a very presentable body for his loved ones. Excessive.

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  2. Citizen says:

    Next time, call the family to come and get their loved one. See how that goes.

    (12) 16 Total Votes - 14 up - 2 down
  3. shelworth says:

    They should have shot the knife out of his hand, like they do in the movies, right Kettle?

    (6) 18 Total Votes - 12 up - 6 down
  4. sloweb says:

    The good news in this story is that, apparently, there is a shortage of scumbag lawyers in Santa Maria, and they had to go to Fresno Co to find one. The actual number of scumbag lawyers in Santa Maria is listed below. That number is right next to the thumbs down. ;)

    (10) 26 Total Votes - 18 up - 8 down
  5. RonHolt says:

    Most of the allegations don’t sound like they would hold up. However, I wonder if a taser was used. This would seem like a very appropriate situation for one as opposed to use on individuals whose main crime is mouthing off or ignoring orders in a non-threatening manner.

    (-10) 28 Total Votes - 9 up - 19 down
  6. ironyman2000 says:

    A point to think about is that if this fellow was suicidal this might have been a way to go. Being suicidal can be scary and confusing. One doesn’t want to get sick or maimed. One just wants to die. Not to be here anymore. Suicide by cop is a possible way to get it over with.

    (8) 10 Total Votes - 9 up - 1 down
  7. CentralcoastRN says:

    14 shots was excessive. The end.

    (-9) 35 Total Votes - 13 up - 22 down
  8. easymoney says:

    If he had only complied with the LEO requests, he would not have been shot at all…

    (26) 52 Total Votes - 39 up - 13 down
  9. Stunned says:

    14 shots from a distance of between 5 and 10 feet away seems like a lot of firepower to overcome the threat of one man with a knife. On the other hand, two shots would have likely provided the same result and the same lawsuit so who knows!

    Such an ever changing world we live in!

    (-10) 28 Total Votes - 9 up - 19 down

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