Fresno Bee/Robert Rodriguez

The family of Gerald Johnson, a 55-year-old Fresno man shot and killed by police in March, has filed a wrongful death claim against the City of Fresno.

The claim, filed on Monday, alleges police used excessive force when trying to convince Johnson to get out of a broken-down car in his mother’s yard on March 22.

The family’s lawyer, Michael Haddad of Haddad & Sherwin in Oakland, alleges the shooting violated established legal standards as well as California’s new deadly force law, limiting officers’ use of deadly force.

“Gerald Johnson was a hardworking man and good father, who in recent years had become frail from having had cancer,” said Haddad, a civil rights attorney. “Fresno police officers callously ended his life without any necessity. This is one more sad example of the FPD’s militaristic tactics causing unnecessary death, and yet another non-threatening African-American man killed by police.”

The Johnson family’s claim comes at a time when there is a nationwide call for an end to police brutality, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been charged with murder and is no longer on the force. Three other officers involved in the case were also fired and face lesser charges. …

Police say Johnson died on March 22 after a confrontation with officers. Police had responded to a disturbance call at Johnson’s mother’s home in the 2900 block of East Gilbert Avenue, just east of Highway 41 and just north of Ventura Avenue.

Police received 911 calls that the man was possibly high on PCP and tried to hit his nephew with a shovel.

Family members acknowledge in the claim against the city that Johnson was distraught and was possibly high on PCP when police arrived. Johnson ran to the backyard, where he climbed into a broken-down car in his mother’s yard.

In the complaint, family members said they urged police to use deescalation tactics to coax him out of the car, but they were ignored.

Police said they spent slightly more than two hours trying to coax Johnson to come out of the car and surrender. Officers said they saw what appeared to be a gun in the man’s hand during the negotiations. But family members, according to the claim, told police he may have had a bb gun in the car, but not a real gun.

Johnson then suddenly stopped communicating with the department’s crisis negotiator, prompting three officers to approach the vehicle.

Police said they saw what appeared to be a gun in Johnson’s hand and opened fire.

Family members allege the officers failed to warn Johnson before their deadly use of force. There were also alternatives to deadly force that the police chose not to use, the complaint said.

Johnson’s 16-year-old son was there that night and witnessed the police shoot his father. After the shots were fired, Johnson’s distraught son ran to his body, but was stopped by police, who pointed their weapons at the teenager, according to the claim.

Johnson was rushed to Community Regional Community Medical Center but died.

“At all times, Mr. Johnson had not committed any crime in Respondent’s presence, nor any crime, or felony outside the Respondent’s presence and did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious injury to anyone. Further, the use of lethal force was never reasonable or necessary under the circumstances,” according to the claim.

Haddad’s claim against the city is the first step in the pursuit of a civil rights lawsuit against the city and its officers. The claim is filed on behalf of his three youngest children, who he lived with and raised.

Haddad is representing another Fresno family in an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit over the 2017 shooting death of Isiah Murrietta-Golding, 16, by police Sgt. Ray Villalvazo.



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