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$2.2M settlement for death

Shooting lawsuit deal awaits judge’s OK

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$2.2M settlement for death

Family attorney John Burris during a press conference in June 2011 at the shooting site in the 200 block of Flores Avenue.

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo


POSTED April 1, 2014 1:40 a.m.

The family of 34-year-old Ernest Duenez Jr. — the man shot to death by a Manteca Police officer in June 2011  — has apparently reached a $2.2 million settlement with the City of Manteca’s insurance carrier. 

The tentative settlement that has yet to be approved by a judge came just weeks before the start of a civil trial seeking damages. John Moody, the officer involved, was cleared of any wrongdoing after an extensive investigation by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office.

The Duenez family originally sought $25 million claiming the use of excessive force after Duenez was shot and killed during a confrontation in the 200 block of Flores Avenue just southwest of Doctors Hospital. 

According to court filings obtained by The Bulletin on Monday, four people will split the payment. Forty percent will go to his son Dominic, 30 percent to his wife Whitney and 15 percent apiece to his parents Ernest and Rosemary. The case gained national attention after the dashcam video of the incident – which shows the officer firing at least 11 shots in less than five seconds – went viral. 

Both of his parents were in the vehicle he was riding in at the time of the shooting. His estranged wife – with whom he had a physical altercation the day before – was seen on the video rushing to his side as he laid on the grass bleeding. 

A forensic analysis conducted as part of the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s investigation into the shooting concluded that Duenez had a fixed-blade knife in his right hand as he attempted to climb out of the vehicle. While attempting to flee it appears that his left foot became entangled in the seatbelt and despite Moody’s pleas to put his hands in the air – warning him that he would shoot – Duenez made a motion back towards the vehicle.

It was then that Moody fired a rapid succession of bullets that would, after a series of moments that included Moody searching Duenez’ body and the area surrounding it for a weapon, claim his life. 

What followed was a series of emotionally-charged events and legal steps that included restraining orders, arrests and claims of harassment that, according to the contention of Duenez  family, stemmed from being “stonewalled” by the department.

“From the moment we received the news of our Jr’s murder the City of Manteca and the Manteca Police Department have done everything in their power to make our nightmare almost impossible to bear,” Reyna Duenez, the victim’s sister, wrote in a release. “From not allow my mother the chance to hold my brother one last time while he was still warm to immediately working to collude and cover up the murder of my brother and finally DA James Willett’s refusal to prosecute ... John Moody. We have to live every day with this injustice because the perpetrator wears a badge.”

The only thing keeping the settlement from being official is the signature of a judge. 

Duenez’ family became a regular staple on the sidewalk across from the Manteca Police Department with picket signs and banners calling for Moody’s firing and ultimately his prosecution. Their presence was relocated up the street after a temporary restraining order was issued against Duenez’ brother Gabe. Moody claimed that he had followed his family to Santa Clara’s Great America in order to stalk and harass them. Gabe Duenez was then unable to stand within that same bubble. 

Tensions were once again heightened when Dominic Aguilar was arrested for making terrorist threats after a Facebook post that advocated violence against Moody raised red flags in the law enforcement community. He was arrested and subsequently took the case to trial – arguing that the affected speech was based off of lyrics by a relatively well-known rapper. 

 

A rundown of what the court filing contends happened on June 8, 2011

The original court filing contends Manteca Police relied on information passed to them wrongfully that Duenez was armed. The filing also states Moody had information that Duenez stored a gun in his buttocks. It also states that Moody told investigators that information he received from dispatch was simply that Duenez was involved in an altercation with some woman and had a knife on his person but had not threatened anyone.

Duenez was on parole at the time he was killed. He was set to be discharged from parole a month after he was killed. The court filing states Duenez believed he may have tested positive on a drug test and that he possibly had a warrant for violating parole due “to the likely positive drug test.”

 

The filling also contends:

• Duenez had asked a recent acquaintance of his — Rudy Camarena — for a ride to another person’s house to pick up various items he had left there.

• The homeowner said Duenez had dropped a knife on the ground as he retrieved his property.

• After Duenez got back into Camarena’s pickup, the homeowner brought the knife out to the truck.

• The homeowner said Duenez accepted the knife and one of them — either Duenez or Camarena — tossed the knife into the bed of the pickup where it was not accessible from inside the cab where Camarena’s wife, Duenez and Camarena were seated.

• The homeowner then called police and told them Duenez was armed with a knife

• That report was subsequently relayed by dispatch to police.

• The three returned to the Camarena residence later with Duenez seated in the small back seat of the two-door pickup.

• Duenez’s wife Whitney was inside the residence.

• After Camarena parked his pickup in his yard, Moody pulled behind them in his patrol car and activated his red lights and siren.

• Duenez, who was in the back seat, began to try and exit the truck while Camarena and his wife remained in the truck.

• The truck’s ignition was turned off.

• Duenez pushed Camarena’s wife forward as he began to exit the truck. He stepped his left foot out of the truck.

• Duenez’s right foot became entangled in the seat belt.

• Duenez’s hands were up.

• Duenez held a dark colored object in one hand that the legal filing states was likely the glass marijuana-smoking pipe later found at the scene. (Police contend it was the knife.)

• Moody ran around the driver’s side of his patrol vehicle while yelling for Duenez to put his hands up.

• Duenez was in the process of getting out of the truck with one hand on the cab of the truck and one hand on the open passenger door of the truck, with the dark object in the hand on the cab of the truck.

• This was taking place with Duenez and the officer 15 feet from each other.

• Moody ordered Duenez to “drop the knife now.”

• 13 gun shots were fired.

• ”About” four gunshots occurred after Duenez had fallen to the ground.

• Time elapsed from the officer exiting the patrol car until the shooting started was 6.6 seconds.

• After the shooting, a knife was located in the rear of the pickup truck.

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