By Robert J Hansen
A Merced man standing was in his front yard then began to run when he saw a Merced police officer leave his squad car with his gun drawn last month according to neighbors and the family of the man.
Philip Easton, 33, has bipolar disorder and lives with his stepfather, Pastor Ronald Dunham of the Second Baptist Church and his mother, Cathy Dunham.
“That’s the first thing I saw,” Easton said. “I just ran into the backyard because I wasn’t trying to get shot.”
Officer Laguna chased Easton around the house with his gun drawn when Easton tripped over a bike and injured his hand and leg, for which he would later go to the hospital.
The Dunham’s house is next door to their church.
The police report stated that Easton began reaching in his waistband. Easton told police he was pulling up his pants.
By the time Easton’s mother, Cathy, made her way outside, Easton was sitting on the front porch and Laguna was standing nearby.
“I was trying to hold Philip from getting up and reacting because I was kind of fearful he (the officer) was waiting for him to do something,” Dunham said.
When Mrs. Dunham asked Officer Laguna what happened, he told her that Easton looked suspicious.
“I asked him (Laguna) if my son did something or said anything and told me no, he just looked suspicious,” Mrs. Dunham said. “He never once mentioned a gun.”
Officer Laguna told Mrs. Dunham, “He just ran from me and I felt that was very suspicious.”
Since the incident, Easton’s behavior has been erratic and has become manic at times. Easton doesn’t take walks or leave the house as often as before the incident because he and his parents fear for his safety.
‘It’s just been horrible,” Mrs. Dunham said.
The Dunhams, who are African American, feel their son is the victim of racial profiling and that his civil rights were violated.
“My son could have lost his life at the hands of this officer,” Mrs. Dunham said.
Pastor Dunham, who has been a pastor in Merced for 19 years, said that Officer Laguna told him he was “sorry this had to happen,” but never mentioned he drew his gun.
When the Dunhams were told by neighbors that the officer chased Easton with his gun, they decided to file a complaint at the police department.
There, the Dunhams were met by Sergeant Mark Jenkins who did not allow them to file a complaint and made them feel like Philip was responsible for what happened.
“He mentioned the death of Merced police officers and told us ‘He’s lucky he re-holstered his firearm,’ as if my son had been shot it would have been his fault,” Mrs. Dunham said.
The Dunhams still plan to file a formal complaint with the police department.