The family of a 23-year-old man fatally shot by police in January 2014 has filed a claim against the city of Yakima.
Police said Rocendo Arias was shot while lunging toward a police officer while holding an airsoft pistol after being awakened while sleeping in a car outside a Nob Hill Boulevard car wash.
Attorneys filing the claim paint a different picture.
“Forensic examination of the scene indicates Officer(Casey) Gillette fabricated a fictitious lunge to justify his shooting an unarmed man,” according to a news release issued by two Yakima law firms, Tamaki Law and The Pickett Law Firm.
The shooting was ruled justifiable by the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
The filing of the tort claim serves to put Yakima on notice that a lawsuit will be filed. The city has 60 days to respond to the Arias family’s tort claim.
In their notice of the claim, the attorneys included a review of the incident by former police Capt. Rod Light, who has been retained as consultant for attorney Bill Pickett. The attorneys said Light will testify that Gillette “wrongfully” shot Rocendo Arias, and had previously demonstrated a history of using excessive force and attempting to cover up his actions.
Light, they said, will also testify that the Yakima Police Department failed to properly discipline Gillette for wrongfully punching a man in the head some months before the Arias shooting.
In his review conducted for the Arias family, Light wrote that Arias’ body was found after the shooting in the same position that Gillette described it being in when he first came up to the car — facing forward, head down with chin on chest. Arias’ autopsy determined that Arias was shot in the side of the head from more than four feet away, Light wrote.
“There is simply no evidence to support Gillette’s claim that Arias ‘lunged’ toward him,” Light wrote. “The physical evidence from the scene ... along with Gillette’s prior unreasonable use of force and the undeniable history of concealing his own misconduct demonstrate Gillette fabricated facts in an effort to justify the shooting afterwards.”
The family is seeking $5 million in damages from the city, but the claim notice said the family is willing to settle for $2.5 million if the city, among other things, issues an immediate public apology and admits the shooting was unjustified, fires Gillette, establishes a citizen review panel to investigate officer misconduct and submits to monitoring by the U.S. Justice Department for the next five years.