“All we want is justice. Justice for my son. I know we’ll never see him again, and we miss him very much. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” said Javier Gaona’s father at a press conference in Santa Maria Wednesday morning.
31-year-old Javier Gaona was killed by Santa Maria police on July 20 outside a FoodsCo at the intersection of Enos Drive and Broadway. Police had responded to reports of a man holding a knife and threatening to harm himself.
Police said they tried to negotiate with Gaona, but when those negotiations ultimately failed, Gaona began stabbing himself and rushed at officers who had earlier deployed non-lethal rounds. That’s when they were forced to shoot him.
“There’s nothing else we could have done, especially you have to know when you charge an officer with a weapon they have to bring this to a resolution,” Lt. Paul Van Meel with the Santa Maria Police Department told KCOY 12 the day following the fatal shooting.
However, the family’s attorneys paint a different picture citing interviews with witnesses and video showing the officer-involved shooting. “The situation was static. Nothing was happening. Police had time and containment to their advantage,” said Eric Schweitzer, one of the family’s attorneys, at Wednesday’s press conference. “What happened on July 20th was unnecessary and uncalled for.”
“At least a dozen or more officers were present. There were no means for Javier to inflict great harm at the distance where police fired bean bag rounds,” Schweitzer added.
Attorneys for the Gaona family say Javier did not rush or walk towards the officers, but rather stumbled forward, dazed, as a result of the non-lethal bean bag rounds impacting his body. “The more he stumbled, the more they shot him,” Schweitzer said. “Officers overreacted and we saw contagious fire.”
Attorneys said they’ve filed a government tort claim against the City of Santa Maria last week seeking $3 million in damages and training for officers on how to handle calls involving emotionally or mentally unstable individuals.
“You’d think in the year 2016 with modern police practices and all the resources that were on scene, a better outcome could have been achieved,” Schweitzer said.
Attorneys for the Gaona family say they are in the process of reviewing more evidence and video from the shooting.