LODI (AP) — The family of a Gulf War veteran who was fatally shot by police filed a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming the officers used excessive force.
The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, and the family’s attorney also released statements from 17 people who say they witnessed parts of the Jan. 25 incident involving Lodi police officers and Parminder Singh Shergill outside a neighbor’s home.
Shergill’s relatives said statements collected by their attorney don’t match what little information police have released, forcing them to seek answers in court.
Shergill, 43, who participated in Operation Desert Storm, had post-traumatic stress disorder and was exhibiting signs of a flare-up before two officers shot him, court papers say.
His sister, Kulbinder Sohota, said Shergill never talked about his wartime experience, and his mental illness manifested several years after he returned home.
Sohota said family members had previously called police to take her brother to a clinic or hospital when he was having a mental health episode. Police had been helpful before, she said.
“Come on, he fought for the country, and that’s what he gets?” Sohota said about the shooting. “That makes me very angry.”
The shooting occurred after Shergill’s worried mother asked police to look for him after he abruptly left the house in a bad mental state, relatives said.
Lodi police have said officers Scott Bratton and Adam Lockie opened fire after Shergill charged them with a knife.
Witnesses gave investigators for family attorney Mark Merin varying accounts of events surrounding Shergill’s death in a volley of bullets. Only two witnesses said they saw the actual shooting.
Timothy Antolin, 24, said in his statement that he was on the second floor of his home when he heard someone say, “’Stop, we want to talk to you,’ and then, ‘Drop the weapon.’”
Antolin said he went to a window and heard Shergill shout, “’You talking to me?’” followed by a curse word.
As Shergill spoke, he turned to his left, facing the officers, “but not in a threatening manner, nor did he move toward the officers or close the distance between them,” Antolin said in his account. He said he could not see Shergill’s hands as he turned.
After the shooting, Antolin saw officers handcuff Shergill and rummage through his clothing. After leaving his house, Antolin said, he saw items strewn about Shergill’s body, including a 3-inch folding knife with a belt clip, according to the statement.
In his statement, witness Bob Mendez, 56, said he heard a commotion from his garage. He said he couldn’t make out the verbal exchange between the officers and Shergill but watched all three move along a sidewalk. The officers had their guns drawn when Shergill zig-zagged, Mendez said.
Mendez described in the report hearing Shergill yell something as he turned left and raised his right hand to eye-level, “like someone is arguing with someone else,” and take about four steps toward the officers, who fired. Mendez said in the report it was too far for him to see if Shergill had anything in his hand.
Attempts to contact Antolin and Mendez on Friday were unsuccessful.
Lodi police have declined to release details of the shooting, citing an ongoing investigation involving multiple agencies. The department has released a general explanation saying the two officers had no choice but to kill Shergill after he charged them with a knife.
Police spokesman Lt. Sierra Brucia did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Merin said he believes that the witness statements contradict the police account.
“They’ve given us no support for their knee-jerk reaction that this was a justified shooting,” Merin said.
Marin said he didn’t file the witness statements in court, but gave them to Lodi police and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.
Merin said he expedited filing the suit and took the unusual step of making the witness statements public to pressure authorities into providing autopsy and toxicology reports, transcripts of 911 calls made from Shergill’s mother, and other information that might shed light on why officers shot Shergill.
“If we’re able to get these statements, you’d expect they could as well,” said Merin, adding that he will seek more answers for the family through litigation.