Woodland Police Denied Qualified Immunity in Michael Barrera Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Supporters of the Barrera family march to the Woodland Police Department on Wednesday, February 8, 2023. (Photo by Robert J Hansen)

By Robert J Hansen

Woodland, CA – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the Woodland Police Department and five officers who killed Micheal Barrera in 2017 were properly denied qualified immunity by the district court.

The appellate court ruled that the officers were trained to know that Barrera was handcuffed and prone on the ground, and additional restraint was unconstitutionally excessive.

The appeal came from the district judge denying a motion by the defendants’ attorneys who sought to dismiss the case based on qualified immunity.

Defense attorneys for the five Woodland police officers, former and current, then appealed the district court’s order denying their motion to dismiss the case.

Marissa Barrera, Michael’s sister, has been the family spokesperson since the beginning and said that this was the only ruling the appellate court could have made.

“I was confident that they were going to rule in our favor because that’s the only conclusion anyone who sees the (video) evidence could come to,” Marissa said.

Voices of Strength board member Tina Marie said though she was not surprised, she was relieved.

Marissa Barrera founded Voices of Strength, after her brother died, as an organization that brings families together who lost their loved ones to police brutality.

“Based on the evidence it does not surprise me but based on the typical responses of judges I am relieved to see a court attempting to follow the letter of the law,” Marie said.

Barrera’s family intends to take the case to trial and it has come too far to now accept any possible settlement offer.

Michael Barrera’s mother, Christine Amaro, said the police officers need to be held accountable and unless the case goes to trial, no one will know what the police did to her son.

“The only thing I would settle for is if they [the police officers] were fired, arrested and prosecuted,” Amaro said. “There is no amount of money they could offer that we would settle for.”

Almost all the local news reports of the February 2017 incident parroted the many false statements made by the police, the coroner’s office and the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.

Five months after Michael was killed, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig announced he would not be filing charges against the Woodland police officers.

Attorney Stewart Katz, who at that time represented the Barrera family, told the Sacramento Bee that the district attorney’s review shows there is plenty of evidence to review, including video of the incident and interviews with witnesses.

Video from the officer’s body camera now shows much of the reporting about Barrera was not true.

The officer’s use of the taser was found unreasonable in that the defendants violated established law as well as department policy when they tased Barrera, according to the ruling.

“The district court properly denied qualified immunity to each defendant on the excessive force claims,” the court ruled.

The police officers targeted Barrera, an unarmed man suffering from mental illness, tased him in violation of Woodland Police Department (the “Department”) policy, dog-piled on top of him as he lay prone on the pavement, and continued to hold him down on his stomach with the full weight of their bodies for a total of four minutes until Barrera asphyxiated, while Barrera was handcuffed and stating that he could not breathe, the ruling said.

The officers should have known that when Barrera was handcuffed and prone on the ground, additional restraint was unconstitutionally excessive, the court ruled.

Because the court could not discern from the district court’s order on which basis it denied the defendants’ assertion of qualified immunity, the court remanded to the district court to clarify its order as to that claim.

“We have encouraged district courts to clearly ‘articulate the basis upon which they deny qualified immunity,’” the ruling said.

Amaro is standing up for not only her son but the future Michael Barreras and said there has to be a stop to police killing so many young men.

“When they killed my son they also killed my family,” Amaro said.”They have to pay for what they did. This has been going on for way too long, the police killing people and nobody does anything about it.”

The next court date has not been determined and likely will not be until the clarification is made.

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. Walter Shwe

    Once again DA Reisig has proven to be completely wrong. I have zero respect for him. If I ever sit on a Yolo County criminal jury while Reisig is still the DA, I will automatically side with the defendent.

  2. Jim Frame

     If I ever sit on a Yolo County criminal jury while Reisig is still the DA, I will automatically side with the defendent.

    Well, that’s one way to get out of jury duty…

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