$20M Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Anaheim Police Department

Lawsuit stems from an incident in January in which a man with a BB gun was shot by SWAT officers in Anaheim

By Jason Kandel
|  Tuesday, Oct 30, 2012  |  Updated 6:55 PM EDT
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Report: Police Shootings Spike in Anaheim

A series of protests have rocked Anaheim over a spate of police shootings since July 21, 2012.

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The family of a man shot by police in Anaheim, Calif., in January has filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit, court documents show.

The family of Bernie Cervantes Villegas alleges Anaheim officers wrongfully and negligently shot him to death on Jan. 7 outside an apartment complex, according to the civil complaint filed Oct. 15 in Orange County Superior Court.

The lawsuit alleges that at least five members of the department’s SWAT team rushed around a corner and shot Villegas without provocation as he stood in a parking lot, talking with friends.

Full Coverage: Anaheim Shootings

Police responding to 911 calls of a man with a gun shot Villegas, who they say threatened them with what appeared to be a gun that later turned out to be a BB rifle, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Bob Dunn.

The lawsuit said Villegas was holding a small BB gun -- a present for his son -- but that he did not threaten the officers and was not a danger.

Dana Douglas, the attorney representing the Villegas family, did not return a call seeking comment.

The lawsuit said the officers fired without giving any commands or warnings.

The officers “created a blatantly false story that (Villegas) had a shotgun, that he had waved or pointed a gun at officers and that he had tried to threaten or attack officers,” the lawsuit said.

Villegas held a "small BB gun" by the end of the barrel and pointed upward while he stood and talked with friends, the lawsuit said.

In addition to wrongful death, the lawsuit alleges negligence, negligent hiring, and deprivation of civil rights.

The news comes as Anaheim police shot and critically wounded early Sunday a man on a bike they say was armed with a pistol.

Anaheim has been the focus of increased scrutiny after back-to-back fatal police shootings this summer, one of which prompted a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit by the family of a man who was unarmed.

The shootings sparked a series of protests across the country, clashes with Anaheim police and calls for city reform.

The number of police shootings in Anaheim have spiked as the city has been grappling with a spike in gang-related crime, officers said.

According to data provided by the city to NBC4 under the California Public Records Act, the city of Anaheim has paid out more $2.2 million to settle 10 officer-involved shooting cases dating to 2005.

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