Fresno, CA – The family of a 16-year-old murder suspect killed by police has sued alleging excessive force despite the fact officers believed the teen was armed as he ran toward a daycare center (video below).
Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall said that three separate departments determined that the 2017 officer-involved shooting was justified.
“The officer-involved shooting was investigated by the Fresno Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and the City of Fresno’s Office of Independent Review,” Chief Hall told KSEE. “All three reviews concluded that the use of lethal force was justified.”
The department’s investigation into 16-year-old Isiah Murrietta-Golding began in the wake of the April 14, 2017 murder of 19-year-old Eugenio Ybarra, The Fresno Bee reported.
Investigators identified Murrietta-Golding and his then-17-year-old brother as potential suspects in Ybarra’s homicide, according to KMPH.
“The 16 year old in this case was involved in the homicide with his brother and the brother was later arrested and pled guilty,” Chief Hall told KSEE. “The 16 year old was also known to carry firearms.”
Officers also located store surveillance footage that showed Murrietta-Golding concealing the gun that had been used in the murder, KMPH reported.
Investigators kept the duo under surveillance, then attempted to take them into custody during a traffic stop the following day.
Bodycam footage showed Murrietta-Golding as he exited the passenger side of the suspect vehicle and followed the officer’s commands to face away and walk backwards to the sound of the officer’s voice.
But at the last second, the teen suddenly bolted and led police on a foot pursuit through the residential area.
During the chase, Murrietta-Golding repeatedly “reached into his waistband,” and officers were concerned that he might still be carrying a weapon, then-Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told The Fresno Bee.
Security cameras outside a daycare showed the teen as he scaled the locked security fence with officers following close behind.
As Murrietta-Golding ran across the children’s play yard, he reached towards his waistband once again, the video showed.
“Fearing he was about to be shot, Sergeant [Ray] Villalvazo fired one round, striking Murrietta-Golding,” Chief Dyer told The Fresno Bee.
The bullet hit the teen in the back of the head, and he died at a hospital three days later.
He was not found to be in possession of a firearm when he was shot, and investigators later determined that the daycare center was not open on the day of the incident, according to The Guardian.
Murrietta-Golding’s brother surrendered after the officer-involved shooting, and was booked into jail for Ybarra’s murder, The Fresno Bee reported.
Chief Dyer said the brothers were associated with the Calwa Bulldogs gang, and that Ybarra was associated with one of their rival tagging crews.
Michael Haddad, the attorney for Murrietta-Golding’s mother, Christina Lopez, denied Chief Dyer’s allegations.
“Isiah had no tattoos and was not in a gang,” he told The Fresno Bee. “He was a little boy.”
Stuart Chandler, the attorney for Murrietta-Golding’s father, claimed that the teen was only trying to pull up his pants as he was running from the officers, KMPH reported.
"This is a young man who is running away. And of course, you shouldn't run away when police say stop. That's inexcusable, but that doesn't give them the right to shoot," Chandler declared.
The attorney alleged that the officer shot the fleeing murder suspect because he couldn’t catch up to him.
"What the officer saw was a young man, holding up his baggy pants. And as he ran away, he shot him, because he was getting away," the attorney told KMPH. "Not because he was in fear for his life. Not because he was concerned about possible children in the daycare center."
Critics also blasted police over the fact that one officer yelled out “good shot” after Sgt. Villalvazo fired the fatal round.
“We want to reassure our entire community that this incident does not reflect our city, nor its values,” Fresno City Councilmembers Nelson Esparza, Esmeralda Soria, and Miguel Arias said in a joint statement to KMPH. “We are personally saddened that there has been a failure to express any empathy for the tragic loss of a 16-year-old teenager."
But two other members of the council disagreed.
“While the video reflects an officer involved shooting and subsequent loss of life, it is important to remember that the District Attorney reviewed the circumstances of the shooting,” Councilmen Garry Bredefeld and Mike Karbassi said. “We urge everyone to allow the legal process to unfold and encourage calm and support for all the families who have suffered such great loss.”
Murrietta-Golding’s parents, who are divorced, filed separate lawsuits against the City of Fresno and multiple officers in March of 2018, CNN reported.
Chandler recently released the security footage of the officer-involved shooting, and claimed that the video showed that the use of lethal force was not justified.
“The fact that the police department and the city of Fresno’s police auditor all agreed that this shooting was justified is troubling in light of the video that clearly shows that it’s not,” he told CNN.
“I mean it’s unjustified,” he declared to KSEE. “I don’t know how anyone looking at this video can say this young man running away from an officer or a group of officers posed a threat to them or anybody else.”
Chandler also criticized the officers for handcuffing the murder suspect after he had been shot.
“He’s unconscious and in the process of dying. What is the threat?” he told The Guardian. “They just saw him as an animal who had been shot. They hunted a target. It’s inhumane.”
The attorney said Fresno police were “despicable” for mentioning Murrietta-Golding’s alleged connection to the earlier homicide and declared that the prior events had nothing to do with the officer’s use of deadly force, The Guardian reported.
The civil suit is scheduled for a settlement conference in December, KMPH reported.
If a settlement is not reached at that time, the matter will proceed to trial in October of 2020.
Watch security footage of the officer-involved shooting in the video below: