Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris has filed a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Manteca and the police department in the officer-involved shooting death of Ernesto Duenez, Jr. on behalf of the man’s family.
Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker said Monday that he couldn’t comment on the case while the investigation is continuing to be under way.
“The allegations I am aware of are incorrect,” he said. “They are probably premature in filing their suit.”
Filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, the suit alleges officers wantonly killed Mr. Duenez on June 8 when he was “clearly unarmed and not a risk of harm to anyone.”
Burris and attorney Ben Nisenbaum said in representing the Duenez family that the killing was a tragedy that appears to have been caused by the reckless conduct of at least one of the Manteca Police Department’s officers.
The attorneys claimed that press accounts subsequently released falsely claimed that Mr. Duenez had approached the officers armed with a knife, a gun or a weapon. Burris claimed several witnesses have also refuted the claims of any weapons having been in the hands of the suspect.
The attorney said that his investigation has shown that Duenez was shot while standing next to a parked pickup truck with one foot stuck in a seatbelt inside the vehicle and both hands held up. Burris said both hands were empty with no weapons of any kind in his possession.
Burris requested all public records in the case from Police Chief Dave Bricker before the suit was filed. Many of those records and reports will become available when the “discovery” portion of the suit is allowed by the court.
Bricker responded to Burris by e-mail saying:
“As you are well aware, the information you are seeking is part of an ongoing criminal investigation and is therefore exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act.
“It is my view that premature release of information regarding this investigation will endanger the successful completion of the investigation. Furthermore, release of this information, and in particular information concerning the identity of witnesses and involved parties is an invasion of privacy and poses a safety risk to those involved,” Bricker said.
The police chief also noted that his department has received a report of death threats made to a person associated with the incident. He added that to the extent that the requested records are part of a peace officer’s personnel file, they are not subject to disclosure under the government code.
In addition to the claim for $25 million in general damages, the plaintiffs also ask for special damages in a sum according to proof; for punitive damages in a sum according to proof; for reasonable attorney’s fees; for injunctive relief; for cost of the suit incurred and for such other and further relief as the court deems just and proper.