The city of Fresno has reached a $4.9 million tentative settlement with the family of an unarmed teenager killed when an officer shot him in the back of the head, Councilmember Miguel Arias said Saturday.
The city has faced a lawsuit for about three years after it was filed by the family of 16-year-old Isiah Murrietta-Golding, who was killed as he fled from police on April 16, 2017.
Fresno must pay the first $3 million of the settlement before insurance picks up the rest, according to Arias.
It is the second settlement this month from the Fresno City Council. The city dropped its appeal and agreed to settle a separate case and pay the family of Casimero “Shane” Casillas $4.4 million. He, too, was killed by police.
“These are two very difficult cases that the council wants to bring closure to the families that acknowledges loss and allows the city to pursue other settlements,” Arias said. “I want to sincerely express our apologies and sympathies to the families. It’s my hope that the settlements allow the families to move forward.”
The council is looking to clear out pending cases in order to implement police reform recommendations in good faith, Arias said. Officials have confirmed that about two dozen of the 70-plus recommendations made by the Fresno Commission for Police Reform are in the works.
Video released in October 2019 was met with outrage as it shows Sgt. Ray Villalvazo firing a single round that struck the back of the head of Murrietta-Golding, who police said was a suspect in a fatal shooting the previous day.
Some were further outraged when a body-worn camera captured what seems to be another officer saying “good shot,” as the boy lay dying.
Police have said officers were pursuing a potential murder suspect, and did not know if he was armed.
The settled lawsuit in question alleged that the officer used excessive and unlawful deadly force, and committed assault and battery with negligence.
An attorney representing a family member of the teen made the videos available to local media.
Murrietta-Golding’s mother, Christina Lopez, was represented by attorney Michael Haddad of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, who said the settlement is the largest in Fresno’s history related to an officer-involved shooting.
“The loss of her 16-year-old son for this outrageous police shooting has been the hardest thing in her life,” he said. “The city, I think, recognized the gravity of her loss.”
The family asked for additional training for officers to use deadly force only under immediate threat, Haddad said, but the city did not agree to that provision in the settlement.
“This is troubling for so many reasons,” Haddad said. “The video shows this is a little boy running away from an officer, who squares up and shoots. And the boy was unarmed.”
The Fresno Police Department‘s Internal Affairs Bureau, Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and the city of Fresno’s Office of Independent Review all deemed the lethal force justified.
The killing of the teenager has been routinely used by police skeptics as one of the examples of unnecessary police violence in Fresno that have led to lawsuits.
FRESNO POLICE ACCOUNT
Moments before the shooting, police had pulled over a car carrying Murrietta-Golding at a shopping center at Shaw Avenue and Fresno Street.
An officer commanded Murrietta-Golding to step out of the vehicle, put his hands behind his head and take steps backward toward the officer. Then Murrietta-Golding took off running through the busy parking lot, according to the lawsuit.
Eventually, Murrietta-Golding jumped the fence of a daycare center. There, video taken from the surveillance camera shows Sgt. Villalvazo crouch down slightly, then fire at the teen through the fencing.
Murrietta-Golding immediately collapsed to the ground after being shot, the video shows.