By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Only days before the announcement late last week that Sacramento City police did nothing wrong by shooting and killing unarmed Stephon Clark in his grandparent’s backyard on March 18, 2018 – spawning a year of street protests in the Capital City, another police shooting case was the subject of a closed-door conference in U.S. District Court here.
The family of Michael Barrera – who died Feb. 18, 2017, after city of Woodland police officers repeatedly tasered and struck him – was meeting with lawyers in a pre-trial, settlement conference of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
The 16-page federal complaint lists seven causes of action, including excessive and unreasonable use of force, and violations of Barrera’s civil rights. Named defendants include the city of Woodland, and officers David Krause, Thomas Davis, Richard Wright, Hannah Gray and Parveen Lal.
Like Stephon Clark, Michael Barrera was unarmed – a report said he may have had a golf club.
And like Stephon Clark, the officers who the lawsuit claims killed Michael Barrera have been cleared of any wrongdoing.
But even if the officers were officially cleared, it means little to his sister, Marissa Barrera, who orchestrated a rally of supporters from Woodland and Sacramento outside the federal courthouse prior to the nonpublic settlement conference.
“All of this (court proceedings) are very difficult for families. It seems to drag the process out. Not just in our case, but for cases of other families seeking resolution to police violence all across the country,” she said.
“But we are finding different avenues to bring awareness about police violence. We are fighting for justice for my brother in other ways,” she added, noting that she and other family members have joined a coalition that includes “impacted families of police violence, working with others against police brutality.”
On her Facebook page, Marissa said officer Wright “finished” her brother “off,” charging he had a “personal vendetta against my brother and had interacted with him just two weeks prior, but he claims he didn’t know him after he killed him. More lies.”
In the Barrera case, as in the Stephon Clark killing and other police shooting cases in Northern California and around the country, the district attorney found there was “insufficient evidence to conclude that the use of force by the officers was unreasonable or had proximately caused or contributed to the unfortunate death of Michael Barrera.”
Marissa Barrera and her family have never accepted that DA’s explanation, and have staged public demonstrations and marches in Yolo County, and Sacramento the last week.
In the federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Michael Barrera’s two children and parents, it points out that Barrera, who had a history of bipolar disorder, was out for a walk but was having a “psychological” breakdown. Neighbors called the Woodland Police Dept.
Officers responded, including named defendants Krause, Davis, Wright, Gray and Lal. Wright, the pleading states, knew Barrera “well,” and had helped paramedics place him in psychiatric holds previously.
The family lawsuit said Davis wrestled a distressed Barrera to the ground, and Lal used his taser on Barrera – shortly later, with Davis and Krause holding Barrera face down on the ground, Lal tasered Barrera again. Davis hit Barrera in the face and neck multiple times, and Lal tasered Barrera a third time.
According to the legal filing, “Shortly thereafter, the defendants were able to secure handcuffs on Barrera, who, by that time, was telling the officers that he could not breathe. The officers continued to keep Barrera in a prone position in the mud, with Officer Wright placing his body weight on Barrera, as he placed his knee between Barrera’s shoulders. Barrera was being asphyxiated by the officers.”
The motion then recounts how Barrera then began to vomit, and ceased to struggle. He was pronounced dead after being transported to the hospital.
But an investigation by the Vanguard that evaluated the death of Michael Barrera last summer in the wake of the DA’s report found that there were similarities between the suffocation death of Eric Garner in New York and Barrera;s death.
Garner died after an illegal chokehold led to his death – the infamous video of him saying “I can’t breathe” has been seen by millions. Police ignored Garner, saying, “You are talking, you can breathe.”
In Barrera’s case, he also complained that “I can’t breathe.” And Woodland police ignored it, according to the lawsuit.
The DA’s report noted that Barrera was not put into any “control holds” that would have caused him not to breathe, although the DA admitted at one point (at least) Barrera did say he could not breathe.
And, like the NY Eric Garner case, Woodland Police officer Gray responded, and reported that since Barrera was talking, he was “fine.”
About a minute or so later, Barrera – according to the DA’s account – started to vomit, stopped grabbing onto Officer Wright and was “out,” according to officers, who then could not detect a pulse and said they began CPR.
Minutes later, Barrera was dead.
The Vanguard asked, “Is this a similar situation where police ignored the plea of a man who was in trouble?”
A police consultant noted that even if Garner, or Barrera, could talk does not mean either one could breathe normally.
The DA never asked that question – and the police oversight consultant Aaron Zisser called it “bizarre.
“Analysis is not provided as to whether they were right to continue in their approach even after he said I can’t breathe,” said Zisser, who has since been hired by San Jose as their police auditor. “The report seems to believe the officers that the statement ‘I can’t breathe’ wasn’t true. In other words, they were justified in not believing him…that part is just so bizarre to me,” he said.
The lawsuit asserts that the city of Woodland “does not train, or inadequately trains, its officers in how to deal with persons suffering from psychiatric or psychological problems…(and) has a widespread longstanding custom and practice of not providing assistance to individuals suffering from psychiatric or psychological problems,” which “amounts to deliberate indifference towards the constitutional rights of individuals suffering from psychiatric or psychological problems.”