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Santa Maria PD sued in deadly officer-involved shooting case

A lawsuit against the City of Santa Maria and the Santa Maria Police Department was filed Monday by attorneys representing the parents of Javier Garcia Gaona Jr., the man shot and killed by Santa Maria police outside a FoodsCo gas station in July 2016.

The complaint alleges negligence and excessive force on behalf of SMPD officers, among other allegations, that resulted in Gaona’s death.

“No effort was made to use crisis intervention tactics, including utilization of a trained crisis negotiator and/or mental health professional, verbal de-escalation, taser, police dog, distraction, and time.” states the complaint.

The complaint further alleges that officers escalated the situation by shooting Gaona with “bean-bag” rounds as he stood still, and without making threatening motions, which caused Gaona to move resulting in the fatal shooting. “He began to stumble in various directions and then appeared to have moved towards the officers. Then, multiple SMPD officers…simultaneously opened fire with deadly live ammunition, hitting Javier 14 times,’ reads the complaint.

The deadly officer-involved shooting was all caught on video by multiple witnesses. At the time, the Santa Maria Police Department issued the following statement regarding the shooting:

“The man continued to hold the knife in a threatening manner. Officers attempted to subdue the man using less than lethal means. Several attempts to subdue him in this manner had no effect. The man began stabbing himself then charged at officers with the knife at which point he was shot by officers.”

The complaint blames Gaona’s death on “officers’ indifference and deliberate refusal to utilize non-lethal options that could have avoided the death of a mentally disturbed individual at the hands of the SMPD.”

In July 2016, Lt. Paul Van Meel with the Santa Maria Police Department told KCOY 12, “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.”

“Reasonable officers would not have concluded that Javier, isolated and surrounded by a throng of heavily armed law enforcement officers and their patrol cars, posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to any individual other than perhaps himself,” states the complaint. “As reflected in a 2015 report commissioned by the City of Santa Maria, the SMPD has not done enough to ensure ‘that each SMPD officer receive Crisis Intervention Training so that its officers will have additional capacity to respond to persons they may encounter in mental crisis.'”

Click here to read the full complaint.

KEYT NewsChannel 3 and KCOY 12 have reached out to Santa Maria City officials for comment. We will post that response here when it becomes available.

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