Five Years Later, Barrera Case Set to Go to Trial as Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss

By Robert J. Hansen

Trial is set for the civil lawsuit against the Woodland Police Department and five police officers for the wrongful death of Michael Barrera in 2017 after a judge denied the defense attorneys’ motion to dismiss the case on qualified immunity on Friday.

The family of Barrera is claiming police officers killed Michael as they attempted to arrest him.

The five officers involved with Barrera’s death were Parveen Lal, Hannah Gray, Thomas Davis, David Krause, and Richard Wright.

Three of the officers, Richard Wright and Parveen Lal, as well as Sergeant Davis who is now a lieutenant, are still with the Woodland Police Department.

Officer Hannah Gray works at Elk Grove PD as a public information officer and Sergeant Dave Krause has since retired.

Neil Gehlawat, an attorney for the Barrera family, thinks the judge felt there were too many disputed facts in the case that would preclude any granting of summary judgment.

“He just said this is a case with many disputed facts that should go to trial and will be up to a jury to decide whether the conduct of the officers was reasonable or not,” Gehlawat said.

Gehlawat said qualified immunity is usually an issue in these kinds of cases and is almost always raised by police.

Law enforcement officers are entitled to qualified immunity when their actions do not violate an established statutory or constitutional right which critics say has led to law enforcement officers being able to violate the rights of citizens, particularly disenfranchised citizens, without repercussion.

“We’re obviously happy that the motion was denied and we’re going to have a trial,” Gehlawat said.

Barrera’s family filed the civil lawsuit after Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig did not file criminal charges against the officers, claiming there was insufficient evidence showing force was the cause of Barrera’s death.

The autopsy report ruled Michael Barrera’s death was from sudden death with methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement, yet the stated the “manner of death was classified as Undetermined.”

“I think the judge sees that they killed my brother,” Marissa Barrera, Michael’s sister, said. “I’ve been saying this from day one.”

Barrera said the defense was trying to make an argument that Michael wasn’t a present father to his children.

“They were trying to get my nieces thrown out of the case, that’s what made me mad. But if that’s all they have then we’re winning,” Marissa said.

There was the possibility of a settlement before Friday’s hearing but now it’s up to the jury to decide if the Barreras are owed compensation.

The trial is set for April 26.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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  1. Alan Miller

    I can’t say I know the facts, but this one has never smelled right to me and I’m glad it’s going to trial.  I’m sure his family is more interested in seeing the officers not get away with this, if indeed were causal, than in any money they might get.  Going through prep for a trial is pure hell and consumes one’s life.  I hope that the family finds some measure of peace afterward regardless the outcome.

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