A federal civil rights lawsuit accuses Madera police of killing a mentally ill man who was brandishing a stick.
Filed in a California court in late June, the complaint stacks drastically different accounts of the killing against one another. Police say 31-year Sergio Valdovinos was wielding a machete, shovel handle and makeshift shield when he was shout outside his Madera home last year.
The Fresno Bee suggests that a video taken by a bystander could provide crucial evidence.
Taken from outside the Valdovinos residence, the clip shows four officers gathered around the garage with several more in the street. ‘Moments later,’ says the Bee, the four officers rushed him. One’s heard on tape swearing, ordering the man to put his hands up.
Eight rounds are fired within seconds.
Valdovinos was pronounced dead at Madera Community Hospital upon arrival.
“He has schizophrenia, dementia, 51-50, bipolar and I put him in a facility in Visalia and a hospital,” said the victim’s mother.
“They know Sergio,” she said of police. “They’re familiar with my son.”
Fox26 reported in 2017 that law enforcement had been called to the residence some 50 times in the two years preceding Sergio Valdovinos’s death. The city’s police chief, Steven Frazier, admitted that his officers had encountered the man numerous times before—and not in circumstances drastically different from the ones leading up to his death.
“We’ve been out there before where he’s threatening us with machetes, knives,” said Frazier, adding that Valdovinos had set once set his own garage on fire.
When police confronted Sergio last June, he’d allegedly been in and out of the house, holding a four-foot long stick. He was equipped with a belt laden with screwdrivers and seemed agitated.
“Sergio began swinging the stick at our officers. The officer that was closest to him ended up firing eight rounds to defend himself from getting struck by the stick,” said Frazier.
The trained member of law enforcement attacked by a man with a stick wasn’t injured in the attempted assault but fired eight times to save himself from possible harm. The reaction caused Sergio’s surviving family members to question why bullets were needed to subdue Valdovinos, rather than a non-lethal alternative.
“We need to use a level that stops that threat,” said Frazier. “How many shots that takes? I don’t know. There’s so any factors that come into play. From the time that you start pulling the trigger, to the time he falls, by the time your brain catches up with that, you could have fired three or four more rounds because you know you had to.
“Eight rounds sounds like a lot,” admitted Frazier. “I don’t think that’s excessive at this point.”
The strange defense of his officers’ conduct raises questions as to whether police officers are supposed to shoot first and ask questions later—especially when confronting a suspect they knew to be both mentally ill and potentially violent.
Frazier dismissed concerns after the shooting by saying that an “opportunity” to discharge an electroshock weapon never presented itself.
The suit against the city was filed on June 22nd by civil rights attorney Carl E. Douglas, representing the deceased man’s wife, Maribel Shaw. Douglas, notes the Bee, is known for being part of O.J. Simpson’s ‘Dream Team,’ after the former professional athlete was accused of murder.