The family of a homeless man who was fatally shot by a Tustin police officer while holding a wooden stick and a plastic bag has filed a lawsuit alleging excessive force and wrongful death, contending that he never posed a threat to officers.
The complaint filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court names Tustin Police Officer Estella Silva, who fired at Luis Manuel Garcia, along with the city and other police officers involved in the August incident, who remained unnamed. Garcia’s two daughters, ages 18 and 13, and their mother and Garcia’s former partner, Rosalia Becerra, are seeking unspecified damages.
“We want justice for him and for my girls,” Becerra said in November after police released body-camera footage of the shooting by Silva. “She took away the possibility of my girls having a father. She took away the opportunity for him to get out of the hole that he was in. We want to see justice.”
According to the complaint, officers mishandled a call Aug. 8 about a man armed with a knife, whose description — a white man with blond hair — did not match Garcia.
When officers showed up the next day, the lawsuit said, they did not use proper de-escalation techniques, did not give Garcia enough time to cooperate with commands, and did not give warnings about deadly force before Silva shot him.
“Officers are trained to de-escalate situations, but what this officer did from the moment she got in contact with him is just escalate everything,” said Michael Carrillo, one of the attorneys representing Garcia’s family. “There was no allegations that he had weapons or was hurting anybody.”
Lt. Matt Nunely, spokesman for the Tustin Police Department, declined to comment on the lawsuit, pointing to active investigations by the Orange County district attorney’s office and by the state’s Department of Justice, which is required to investigate all police shootings in the state that result in the death of an unarmed civilian.
In footage from an officer’s body camera, police arriving at a set of tall bushes in front of a mobile home community can be heard telling Garcia to leave the hedges with his hands up.
Garcia says that his hands are up and that he doesn’t know why they want to arrest him, adding that he was there to collect cans for recycling.
As Garcia steps out of the bushes toward the sidewalk, officers yell out that he has a stick. The officer wearing the body camera fires a Taser at Garcia, who shouts and steps back into the hedges. When Garcia steps forward again moments later, Silva, whose gun was already unholstered, fires at least two shots, and Garcia stumbles away from officers before collapsing on the sidewalk.
Officers rendered first aid until paramedics took Garcia to a hospital, where he died later that day.
No weapons were found on Garcia. He was carrying a bag filled with empty cans and the wooden stick, which he used to pick up the recyclables.
Silva and other officers who were involved in the shooting remained on field duty, the Police Department said when the video was released in November.
Family members and attorneys in the lawsuit said Garcia had mental illnesses that worsened after he became homeless. The family tried to help him, but he preferred living alone, they said. Even so, Garcia had stayed in contact with his ex-partner and children. Becerra previously described him as “very lovable” and “very caring for his girls.”
“The kids are just devastated,” Carrillo said. “He had some issues, some concerns, but that’s still their only father, their only dad.”