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Family of Man Fatally Shot By Santa Maria Police in July Files Federal Lawsuit

Parents of Javier Garcia Gaona, Jr. file excessive force lawsuit against city of Santa Maria, police department and officers

Javier Garcia Gaona Jr., 31, was fatally shot by Santa Maria police on South Broadway on July 20, 2016. His parents filed a federal lawsuit against the city, police department and officers alleging excessive force.
Javier Garcia Gaona Jr., 31, was fatally shot by Santa Maria police on South Broadway on July 20, 2016. His parents filed a federal lawsuit against the city, police department and officers alleging excessive force.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

Citing “excessive and unreasonable force,” the family of a man fatally shot by police last summer at a busy Santa Maria intersection has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Santa Maria, the Police Department and several officers. 

Fresno-area civil rights and criminal defense attorneys Eric Schweitzer and William “Bill” Schmidt said they filed the lawsuit, dated March 13, in U.S. District Court’s Central District of California on behalf of Yolanda Garcia and Javier Garcia Gaona, also known as Javier Garcia Villalobos.

On July 20, 2016, officers were dispatched to the corner of South Broadway and Enos Drive where Javier Garcia Gaona Jr., 31, was acting erratically while armed with a knife, reportedly saying he wanted officers to kill him.

“No effort was made to use crisis-intervention tactics, including utilization of a trained crisis negotiator and/or mental-health professional, verbal de-escalation, Taser, police dog distraction and time,” the lawsuit said. 

Officers employed multiple beanbag rounds in an attempt to subdue the man, whom the lawsuit contends was standing still and not making threatening motions to others. 

“There was no justification to assault him in a potentially lethal manner,” the lawsuit said. “This tactic did not immobilize Javier, in fact it (exacerbated) the situation. He began to stumble in various directions, and then appears to have moved toward the officer.”

Multiple officers opened fire, hitting the man 14 times, the lawsuit claimed.

“Javier’s death was the result of the officers’ indifference and deliberate refusal to utilize non-lethal options that could have avoided the death of a mentally disturbed individual at the hands of the SMPD,” the lawsuit says. “Instead, they proceeded directly to potentially lethal ‘bean-bag’ rounds, which were almost immediately followed by a fusillade of gunfire.”

Through the attorneys, the family contends police failed to follow proper procedures. 

Yolanda Garcia and Javier Garcia Villalobos, the parents of Javier Garcia Gaona, hold his picture during a press conference in Santa Maria in August 2016. Javier Garcia Gaona was fatally shot by Santa Maria police on July 20, 2016. Click to view larger
Yolanda Garcia and Javier Garcia Villalobos, the parents of Javier Garcia Gaona, hold his picture during a press conference in Santa Maria in August 2016. Javier Garcia Gaona was fatally shot by Santa Maria police on July 20, 2016. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

The complaint states: “The defendants were under no time pressure and used objectively unreasonable and excessive amounts of force given the absence of an imminent threat to the multiple, heavily armed officers on the scene and the availability of other less lethal means to resolve the situation.”

The lawsuit cites five causes of action, including unlawful use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments, failure to train and supervise city police, battery, and wrongful-death negligence.

They also claim a Bane Act violation, which alleges a police officer or anyone else interfered with a person's federal or state constitutional rights by threats, intimidation, or coercion.

The family has asked for general and special damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, interest and other amounts the court deems proper.

Several police officers also are named in the lawsuit.

The legal action was expected since the family and attorneys held a press conference days after the shooting to say they had taken the first step toward a lawsuit seeking at least $3 million and better training for officers. 

City officials said last summer they could not comment since the legal action was pending.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department investigated the shooting with the report forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review.

The report from the District Attorney’s Office is pending.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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