Anaheim Parents Want|Info on Police Killing

     SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) — Parents sued the city of Anaheim late Tuesday in an attempt to finally learn why a police officer shot to death their unarmed 22-year-old son in February.
     “This lawsuit seeks to establish the true and unequivocal facts regarding the shooting and killing of Gustavo Najera by Anaheim Police Officer German Alvarez,” Alejandro Najera and Maria Magdalena Pliego say in the federal lawsuit.
     Anaheim police have released almost no information about the incident.
     “They’re basically stonewalling things,” said the parents’ attorney, Arnoldo Casillas. “The family is desperate to find out why the police shot their son.”
     Gustavo Najera was shot at about 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 9 in front of a small bathroom in Anaheim’s Sage Park.
     Among the other sparse facts detailed in the 18-page complaint are that the area by the bathroom was well-lit by overhead lights, that the officer was wearing a body camera, and that the police department has refused to release the footage of the shooting.
     “Gustavo Najera was not a threat to anyone, did not have a weapon and did nothing to threaten Anaheim Police Officer German Alvarez when Officer Alvarez shot and killed him,” the complaint states.
     Casillas said in an interview that a private autopsy indicated that Najera was shot once in the head. The bullet entered his eye at a downward angle and stopped at the base of his skull.
     The police department’s public information officer, Sgt. Daron Wyatt, said Wednesday that he cannot discuss pending litigation.
     After the shooting, Wyatt told news media that Najera did not have a weapon.
     On the night of the shooting, two officers had responded to a call about a man repeatedly knocking at a door in an apartment complex. When they couldn’t find the man, one officer drove to the nearby park.
     At 12:41 a.m., the officer radioed that he’d been involved in a shooting, Wyatt told reporters at the time. Najera was taken to a hospital and died about an hour later.
     The Orange County District Attorney’s office is investigating, as it does all police shootings in the county.
     Anaheim police have sparked controversy by previous, similar incidents, including days of protests after two deaths in 2012. Najera’s death in February also brought a protest.
     His parents’ lawsuit sharply criticizes the police department’s training and policies.
     “Prior to the incident which underlies this lawsuit, [the department] was put on notice of the dangerousness of such training and tactics through repeated incidents where officers had unnecessarily and unjustifiably used deadly force,” the complaint states.
     The training is so poor that “it creates situations where … officers prematurely shoot people who pose no threat or danger to them or the public,” the parents say.
     Alvarez “had prior instances of excessive force.” The city “was aware of various instances” when he had “unnecessarily and recklessly [drawn] his firearm,” yet the city did not retrain him, discipline him or fire him for it, the parents say.
     Casillas, who was away from his office when interviewed Wednesday afternoon, said he did not recall any details of those incidents.
     The lawsuit accuses the department of having “a custom and practice of allowing the use of deadly force on unarmed citizens and of not reprimanding or insufficiently reprimanding its officers for that use of deadly force.”
     Just 10 days after Najera’s death in February, Anaheim police killed another man. Denny Rendon, however, had been armed and had seriously wounded a relative and shot toward strangers. He had dropped his weapon by the time he was shot, according to press reports.
     Najera’s parents seek punitive damages for wrongful death, assault and battery, civil rights violations and use of excessive force. They also ask for an injunction ordering the city to reform its police policies.
     Assistant City Attorney Moses Johnson said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.
     Attorney Casillas is with Casillas & Associates in Long Beach.

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