San Jose Mercury News/Nate Gartell

PITTSBURG — The city has agreed to pay $7.3 million to settle a lawsuit by the family of a man who was killed after an officer placed him in a carotid hold for 50 seconds, using a controversial technique that has since been widely banned by law enforcement agencies, in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

Humberto Martinez Sr., 32, died from having the blood stream to his brain cut off, according to the forensic pathologist who conducted his autopsy. During the 2016 incident, Pittsburg officers chased Martinez through a home on Hillview Drive after he fled during a traffic stop, then struggled to detain him in the kitchen. Video of the incident shows an officer keep his arm around Martinez’s neck for several seconds after Martinez goes unconscious, until another officer tells him to get off.

“I was 14 when my Dad was killed. I was getting older and needed a father figure. The police should be the people you go to when you feel unsafe,” Martinez’s son, Humbert Martinez Jr., said in a written statement released by his attorney. “It was unreal that they treated my dad like that.”

The multimillion dollar lawsuit settlement is one of the largest — if not the highest — ever paid to settle a police killing lawsuit in California history. It’s also part of a growing trend of huge payouts in police misconduct suits.

The officer who placed Martinez in the carotid hold has been identified as Officer Ernesto Mejia, who later told his colleagues that Martinez was trying to bite, punch, and headbutt him during the struggle. At one point on the video, Mejia says that he put Martinez in a “chokehold,” and an unidentified officer corrects him, saying, “You mean the carotid?”

An autopsy found he’d cut off Martinez’s breathing and fractured cartilage in his throat, causing “extensive hemorrhages.” The autopsy also found methamphetamine in Martinez’s body that the pathologist testified may have played a role in his death.

“These Pittsburg officers took Beto Matinez’s life for a simple misdemeanor,” the Martinez family’s attorney, Michael Haddad, said in a news release. “They continued to beat and choke him even when he can be heard on their videos saying, ‘I can’t breathe!’”

In 2017, Bay Area News Group got officer body camera footage of the incident released, via public records act request.



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