Shot While Sleeping in Car in Church Parking Lot

     FRESNO, Calif. (CN) — A 20-year-old man who is paralyzed from the waist down claims in court that it’s because Bakersfield police shot him five times for sleeping in his car in a church parking lot.
     “We believe that this was an unjustified shooting,” Gilberto Fajardo’s attorney Neil Gelahwat said in an email. “He was unarmed, had not committed a crime, and was not harming anyone. It is a tragedy that he is now paralyzed as a result of this unjustified shooting.”
     In the May 17 federal complaint, Fajardo says defendant police Officers Juan Orozco and Lindy DeGeare found him sleeping in his car in a church parking lot on the evening of May 17, 2015.
     Though he was unarmed and posed no threat, Fajardo says, they immediately began swearing at him, accused him of stealing the car, and ordered him to “open the fucking window and door.”
     “Startled and perplexed,” by the rude awakening, Fajardo says, Orozco broke the handle of the driver’s side door, then broke the handle on the passenger’s side, “then proceeded to bash in the front windshield” after he started the car.
     “DeGeare then shot plaintiff multiple times while he was still in the vehicle. One of her shots pierced plaintiff’s spine, causing him to become paralyzed instantly from the waist down,” the complaint states.
     “As a result of the paralysis, plaintiff’s foot collapsed on the accelerator, causing his vehicle to collide with a parked van nearby.”
     Bakersfield police tell a different story, though it coincides with Fajardo’s at points.
     Two days after the shooting, Police Chief Greg Williams issued a statement that said: “During their several minute conversation with Fajardo the officers ordered him to exit the vehicle numerous times and he refused. Fajardo rolled up his window, started the vehicle, revved the engine and rapidly accelerated out of the parking stall.
     “At this point, Officer Lindy DeGeare, who was positioned on the driver side of the suspect vehicle, no longer saw her partner, Officer Juan Orozco, who was positioned on the passenger side of the suspect vehicle. Believing her partner had been or was being run over she fired her duty firearm at Fajardo, striking him. Fajardo collided with a van that was parked across the parking access lane from where he was initially parked.”
     Williams’ statement added: “Medical aid was summoned to the scene and Fajardo was transported to Kern Medical Center for treatment.”
     Fajardo says that’s not what happened. He claims that after he was shot and paralyzed, Orozco and DeGeare “dragged him from the vehicle onto the pavement, jumped on him, kneed him, and handcuffed him, causing further injuries.”
     To cap it off, Fajardo says, the Kern County District Attorney is unfairly prosecuting him for assault with a deadly weapon.
     Bakersfield police killed more people per capita than police in any other city in 2015, according to statistics cited in the complaint. Bakersfield police killed 13.6 people per 1 million population that year, 3.8 times the national rate of 3.6 per million, and significantly more than the second-ranked city, Oklahoma City, whose rate was 12.6 per million, according to a report called Mapping Police Violence.
     In Kern County, whose seat is Bakersfield, all the police victims were men, more than half were Hispanic, and most were unarmed, according to a December 2015 Courthouse News report. Forty-six percent of Bakersfield’s population of 369,000 people were Hispanic in 2014, according to city-data.com.
     Bakersfield rarely disciplines police officers who shoot people, creating a culture that condones and overlooks excessive force, Fajardo says in the complaint.
     Bakersfield Police spokesman Gary Carruesco said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
     Officer DeGeare was put on paid leave after shooting Fajardo. The police department’s Critical Incident Review Board returned her to active duty in July 2015 after finding the shooting was justified states.
     Fajardo seeks punitive damages for excessive force, violation of due process, battery, negligence, inadequate training, and civil rights violations.
     Attorney Gehlawat, with Chain Cohn Stiles of Bakersfield, is assisted by Dale Galipo of Woodland Hills.

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