SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A mother has filed a $20 million lawsuit Friday against the city of Huntington Beach, California, claiming its police officers used excessive and unreasonable force by fatally shooting her son after witnesses saw him chasing children with a broken bottle at a soccer field.
Angela Hernandez filed a civil rights action against the city in federal court in Santa Ana as successor in interest to her son, Steven Schiltz. Police shot him on March 9 at the Huntington Beach Central Park Sports Complex. He was 29.
According to the lawsuit, Schiltz was beaten, stabbed and assaulted by unknown assailants as he went looking for his adult softball team, and was running away from the assailants across the sports field when a responding police officer shot him. Schiltz’s mom says he was “bleeding profusely” and he was disoriented.
“On information and belief, at the time of the shooting, decedent was unarmed and did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury,” the 23-page complaint states. “Decedent was struck by the gunshots multiple times, including in the head, and ultimately died from the gunshot wounds.”
Schiltz “was considered legally blind in one eye and had poor vision. On information and belief, decedent was not wearing his prescription eyeglasses at the time of this incident,” his mother adds in the complaint.
Hernandez told KCBS-TV after the shooting that her son had spent some time in a psychiatric ward in 2016 and struggled with drug problems.
In a March 10 statement, the Huntington Beach Police Department said it responded to multiple calls describing a man chasing children with a bat and broken bottle.
“As officers arrived, the man ran into a set of bleachers, which were occupied by several families. At that point, an officer involved shooting occurred,” the department said.
After chasing screaming children, Schiltz moved in the direction of a woman on the bleachers who was paralyzed with fear, witness Jose Sanchez said in March.
Sanchez, whose team of 13-year-olds was on the sports field practicing, told the Associated Press that the officers’ choices were limited.
“I feel like the cops tried not to shoot him and when they did it was because they had to,” Sanchez said. “One more second, and he would have struck her.”
Hernandez’s attorney Dale Galipo said several witnesses at the scene had seen Schiltz bleeding and told his family members that he got into a “physical altercation” and ran away. He said an autopsy report revealed injuries to his body that were not gunshot wounds.
“He was there to play softball. He’s never had a problem at that park. He’s not the kind of guy that’s going to go out and assault somebody. We think the evidence is going to show he was a victim of an assault,” the Woodland Hills attorney said in a phone interview.
Hernandez was very close to her son, he added. At a news conference in March she said Schiltz was “all bark and no bite,” according to news reports.
“She not only wants to pursue justice for her son overall, she believes there are just too many police shootings, that they’re overreacting, that they’re shooting first in a situation they don’t necessarily need to kill someone, and then they take steps to try to justify it,” Galipo said.
But Hernandez had filed a restraining order against her son in early 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times, claiming he had used knives, baseball bats, pool sticks, pool balls and chairs to threaten her and her family members. She said her son had problems with alcohol and used medical marijuana.
“As a family, we have tried numerous options to help him with his addictions and abuses, but he declines our advice and/or suggestions,” the mother wrote. “We are now at the point of seeking police protection because his abuses are escalating to levels that we can no longer accept or handle.”
Hernandez seeks $20 million in damages.
Huntington Beach did not respond to a request for comment by press time.