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Family filing wrongful death claim
Contends Duenez was unarmed when Manteca Police shot him
Rosemary Duenez, mother of Ernest Duenez Jr., stands with her grandchildren, from left, Elinaj, Cienna, and AJ Duenez as they look over the memorial at the shooting scene where their uncle was shot and killed by a Manteca Police officer. - photo by HIME ROMERO

A wrongful death claim is being pursued against the City of Manteca in the police shooting of Ernesto Duenez Jr.

The 34-year-old was shot and killed after a confrontation with a Manteca Police officer on June 8.

Oakland civil rights attorney Jim Burris detailed the claim Thursday morning on the Flores Avenue lawn where Duenez was killed. Police contend Duenez had charged at the officer with a weapon. Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker has said the officer, a 10-year veteran whose name has not been released, fired out of fear for his life.

Some 50 family members and friends gathered in the street and on the lawn at the 11 a.m. press conference at 11 a.m. near a memorial of flowers, photographs and a cross that had been set up in the front yard of 220 Flores Street.

The home is the residence of Rodolfo and Margarita Camarena.  Rodolfo was reportedly driving the pickup the day of the shooting and recalled pulling the vehicle into the front yard as a police car pulled in behind them.

He said Ernesto Duenez Jr. had been sitting in the back seat when they stopped.  When he told Duenez about the officer he said his friend felt he had to get out.  He said as Duenez exited the truck from the back seat his leg got tangled in the seatbelt and he halfway fell to the ground. just before being shot.

Duenez’ sister Sabrina, 33, said the family wants justice for what happened.   They said police dragged him and handcuffed him after he was shot.  Camarena agreed saying they had to cut the seat belt to free his leg.

She countered the police claim that Duenez was a parolee-at-large and considered armed and dangerous when he was stopped by officers.  She said he had recently failed a drug test but added that he was due to be released from parole soon.  She said while he had been in and out of prison, he had served his time, saying that should all have been behind him.

Whitney Duenez, the wife of the dead man, insisted that not one police officer tried to do anything to help him. 

“I sat next to him on the ground when he took his last breath,” she said.

The claim notes that the man’s wife was waiting for her husband inside the Flores Street home when she heard a number of gunshots ring out.  She heard someone yell his name. The woman reportedly ran outside and saw her husband, still standing, hands empty and raised upwards into the air.  She is quoted in the legal document saying that she heard one more shot and saw the impact from the gunshot strike her husband in the head and saw him go down to the ground.

When she went to him she claimed that officers ordered her to put her hands up with officers speaking to her in a derogatory, rude and insulting manner.  She was then handcuffed and placed in the rear seat of a police vehicle.  After a period of time she was taken to the police station and questioned.

Burris charged in his action that numerous shots were discharged by Manteca officers and that Duenez was unarmed at the time of the shooting.   The attorney noted witnesses said that when the victim of the shooting exited the truck Manteca officers ordered him to put his hands up. 

“What the family is alleging is inaccurate,” Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker said on Wednesday.

Bricker said that when all of the facts are out it will be clear that the officer was justified in shooting as his life was threatened.

The patrol vehicle the officer was driving was reportedly equipped with a video cam that was activated during the incident. Law enforcement officials haven’t confirmed if that was the case and, if it was, what the video shows.

Once the Manteca Police finish gathering evidence it will be turned over to the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office for review. That, however, may take six months or longer. The district attorney’s office has other officer-involved shootings they are investigating including several in Stockton that are ahead of the Manteca incident. The DA’s office is the lead agency in the investigation.

The claim states in part:

“Decedent complied with the orders, but his foot was tangled in the right front seatbelt.  After decedent raised his hands, which were empty, Manteca officers fired several gunshots at the decedent.  He remained standing, unarmed, shot several times in the torso and officers discharged a second volley of gunshots.  Decedent’s right foot remained entangled in the right front seatbelt of the truck.  Decedent then went to the ground with his left leg remaining entangled in the seatbelt.

“After the shooting ceased, Manteca Police Department officers approached decedent and cut the seatbelt his foot was tangled in.  One of the Manteca officers then pulled him a few feet away from the passenger door of the truck,” it stated.

On the night of the shooting it took firefighters about four minutes to arrive at the scene.  One medic began chest compressions on Duenez immediately upon arrival with a trip to Doctors Hospital one block away.  He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The wrongful death claim states that the family members suffered severe injuries including the wrongful death of Ernest Duenez Jr., violation of rights, psychological injuries and other injuries and damages including but not limited to emotional distress caused by witnessing the actions of the Manteca Police Department officers.

The damages purportedly inflicted are said to be in excess of the minimum jurisdictional limits of the San Joaquin County Superior Court and include wrongful death, pain and suffering, emotional distress, medical expenses, violation of rights, civil penalties, lost wages, lost economic support, loss of familial relationships and exemplary and punitive damages.

The identities of the officers involved in the shooting are also being requested as is the demand for the preservation of evidence.  That evidence would include any photographs, video footage, patrol car dash cam video footage, shooting scene evidence and radio communication and cell phone communications and text messages that may have been sent.

It also indicated, “This is not a limited civil case.”

Burris was retained by the family of Oscar Grant after he was shot to death by Bay Area Rapid Transit Police officer Johannes Mehserle on the platform at the Oakland Fruitvale station on Jan. 1, 2009.

Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of the unarmed Grant. He has been released after serving 11 months in jail.

Burris was able to obtain a $1.3 million payment to Grant’s mother from BART to settle a civil suit.