Murder Trial Throws a Wrench in Lawsuit Over Fatal Police Shooting in Hayward
OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - The brother of a car passenger shot to death by police cannot pursue claims against Hayward, Calif., until the resolution of criminal charges against the driver.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore summarized the confrontation as alleged in the complaint filed by Jessie Lee Jetmore Stoddard-Nunez, the brother of the slain passenger.
Officer Manuel Troche had been conducting a police ride-along in Hayward, Calif., when he allegedly noticed a Honda Civic moving erratically at 3 a.m. on March 3, 2013.
Arthur Pakman was behind the wheel, and Shawn Stoddard-Nunez sat beside him in the passenger seat.
Believing that the driver was under the influence, Troche followed the car into a cul-de-sac where it then pulled into a parking lot.
Troche, who had neither activated the siren nor flashed his lights at this point, then blinded the passengers by shining the patrol car's spot at them.
Standing outside the Civic, Troche allegedly drew his gun and issued commands. Pakman attempted to drive out of the parking lot, apparently hoping to maneuver between Troche's patrol car and a pole located at the entrance to the parking lot.
Troche allegedly fired nine rounds into the car as it passed by his patrol car and into the street. One of the rounds struck Shawn Stoddard-Nunez, killing him.
Pakman is awaiting trial on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and two counts of felony driving under the influence. The decedent's brother says Pakman is also being charged with murder under a provocative act theory.
He sued the city of Hayward and Troche in September for wrongful death, assault and battery.
The defendants moved to dismiss or stay the action, claiming that allowing it to proceed would interfere with the state court criminal proceedings.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kandice Westmore agreed Monday.
"While those [criminal proceedings] involve Pakman, not Shawn, the issues of Pakman's criminal liability for Shawn's murder, assault with a deadly weapon and felony DUI will necessarily resolve whether Officer Troche was justified, and thus acted reasonably, during the events giving rise to this civil case," Westmore wrote.
Further, "a determination that Pakman, in fact, committed a provocative act by driving the Honda Civic at Officer Troche and his civilian ride along will essentially resolve the issue of whether Officer Troche fired at the vehicle in response to this provocative act," the ruling states. "That, in turn, will necessarily determine whether the shots Officer Troche fired were merely an ancillary, rather than an actual, cause of Shawn's death."
Such a finding would "resolve the central issue in this case" as Troche would have been "justified" firing at a car driven directly at him and his civilian ride along by a "defendant acting with a conscious disregard for human life," Westmore wrote.
Clearing Pakman on the provocative act charge, however, would mean that Troche's "shooting at the vehicle, rather than Pakman's provocative act, would be the actual, as opposed to the ancillary, cause of Shawn's death," Westmore wrote. "It would follow then, that Officer Troche's use of force was unreasonable under the circumstances, i.e., if he merely shot into a fleeing vehicle."
As to assault charges meanwhile, Pakman will have to argue that Troche did not have a right to open fire, with Troche in turn arguing that he fired to defend himself and his civilian ride along.
"Under these circumstances, any disposition in this civil case prior to the resolution of criminal proceedings may be at odds with the outcome of the criminal proceedings, and thus tantamount to interference with the criminal case," the ruling states.
A conviction against Pakman might bar the civil complaint, but acquittal would allow Pakman to bring his own action against Troche and the city, thus leaving the defendants to face multiple lawsuits stemming from the same incident, Westmore found.
Limited discovery in the civil case is warranted despite the stay, however, to preserve percipient witness testimony, the judge added.
"True, Pakman will be an unavailable witness while he awaits trial, but he will be unavailable to both defendants and plaintiff," Westmore wrote. "Other witnesses, will be equally available, or unavailable as the case may be, to both parties in this case, and the court is not persuaded that defendants should not be spared the inconvenience of conducting discovery because a key witness is unavailable at the expense of risking the preservation of all other potential evidence in this case."
A joint case management statement from the parties, with an update on the criminal proceedings, is due one week before an April case management conference.
The plaintiff must also file an amended complaint to separate assault and battery claims and file a declaration that shows he is the decedent's successor-in-interest or is authorized to act on the decedent's behalf.
It is premature to decide whether Troche is immune from state-law claims for wrongful death, assault and battery, according to the ruling.
Westmore noted that, if true, the allegations establish that Troche engaged in conduct outside the scope of what is permitted under California's immunity statutes.
Adante Pointer of the Law Offices of John Burris in Oakland represents the plaintiff.
Joseph Edward Brick from the Hayward City Attorney's office represents the defendants.
Neither side returned a request for comment.