California city settles back-to-back lawsuits over fatal police shootings

Monday, April 26, 2021

The city of Fresno, California, has agreed to settle two federal civil rights lawsuits in less than a month stemming from fatal police shootings, including one in which a teenager suspected of being involved in a homicide was shot in the back of the head on the property of a child daycare center, officials said.

The Central California city of just over 500,000 people announced a tentative $4.9 million settlement in the 2017 police shooting of 16-year-old Isiah Murrietta-Golding just days after announcing it was settling a lawsuit for $4.4 million in the 2015 fatal police shooting of 45-year-old Casimero "Shane" Casillas.

"I want to sincerely express our apologies and sympathies to the families," Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias told the Fresno Bee. "It's my hope that the settlements allow the families to move forward."

Murrietta-Golding was shot and killed on April 16, 2017, when he allegedly ran from police officers after they stopped a car he was riding in. Police said the teenager and his brother were suspects in a homicide.

In October 2019, police officials released surveillance video and body camera footage showing Sgt. Ray Villalvazo firing a single shot, which struck Murrietta-Golding in the back of the head after he scaled the fence of a daycare center.

The videos prompted community outrage after another officer was heard on the footage complimenting Villalvazo for a "good shot" as Murrietta-Golding lay dying.

Police said Murrietta-Golding was unarmed at the time he was shot.

"This tragic shooting of a child was totally unnecessary and sickening to anyone who saw the video. The city of Fresno did the right thing by paying Isiah's parents the largest settlement in Fresno's history," Michael Haddad, an attorney for Murrietta-Golding's family, told ABC station KFSN-TV in Fresno.

The Fresno County District Attorney's office declined to file charges against Villalvazo, and the city's Office of Independent Review found the shooting to be a justified use of deadly force.

"The officer-involved shooting was investigated by the Fresno Police Department 's Internal Affairs Bureau, the Fresno County District Attorney's Office and the City of Fresno's Office of Independent Review. All three reviews concluded that the use of lethal force was justified," former Fresno police chief Andy Hall said in a statement issued in 2019.

Hall, who retired in January, added that though Murrietta-Golding was not in possession of a weapon the day he was shot, he was "known to carry firearms" and was suspected of being involved in a homicide, to which his 17-year-old brother eventually pleaded guilty.

The settlement of the Casillas lawsuit came more than two years years after a federal jury awarded his family $4.75 million.

As part of the $4.4 million settlement, the city agreed to drop its appeal of the jury's verdict in the Casillas case.

The lawsuit alleged former Fresno police officer Trevor Shipman violated Casillas' civil rights by using excessive force in an altercation on Sept. 7, 2015.

"While we believe we would've prevailed and the city would've been liable for significantly more money, the longer the family has to do without the financial support of their father, the harder it is on them," Bill Schmidt, an attorney for the Casillas family, said in a statement to the Fresno Bee.

Casillas was killed after he allegedly led Fresno police officers on a car chase, according to a statement from Fresno County Sheriff's Office, which investigated the officer-involved shooting. When Casillas' car was stopped, he allegedly got out and ran, according to the sheriff's office.

Shipman found Casillas hiding in the yard of a residence, according to the sheriff's office. Casillas allegedly ran toward Shipman, prompting the officer to shoot him three times, according to the statement.

The Fresno County District Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges against Shipman after an investigation found him to be justified in using deadly force against Casillas. Shipman was later hired as a sheriff's deputy in San Luis Obispo County, California.

"Deputy Shipman is an outstanding Deputy Sheriff and the Sheriff's Office supports his hiring and continued employment," a spokesperson for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department said in a statement when the agency hired Shipman in May 2019. "He has proven to be an asset to the residents of San Luis Obispo County."

Related Topics