The family of a mentally ill man shot seven times and killed by Fresno police in September filed a lawsuit against the Fresno Police Department on Wednesday, and their lawyers released a graphic video they say shows the police body cam footage of the shooting at a news conference Thursday.
The video appears to show two Fresno police officers, identified in the lawsuit as Zebulon Price and Felipe Miguel Lucero, got out of their car, identify themselves and yell for Freddy Centeno, 40, to get on the ground. They then fire nine shots – seven of which hit Centeno. The time between them getting out of the car and firing their weapons is a few seconds.
Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer told The Bee the video he reviewed showed the officers giving Centeno multiple commands. It also showed Centeno reach into his waistband and pull out the garden hose nozzle. He will hold a news conference at 1:30 p.m. Thursday and is considering releasing the police body cam footage, which is normally against department policy.
The Bee previously requested the video.
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The video released by the lawyers includes narration and a slow-motion replay of the shooting, which shows the ninth shot was fired while Centeno was already falling down from the first wounds.
I’ve been a civil rights attorney for 29 years, and I’ve never seen a police shooting this bad,” Centeno family attorney Humberto Guizar said.
The shooting occurred around 11 a.m. on Sept. 3 near the intersection of El Monte Way and Orange Avenue. Centeno was in a coma for 23 days before dying on Sept. 26.
Police had received a call from a woman saying a shirtless man had identified himself as a federal agent and threatened her with a gun.
Shortly after the shooting, Centeno’s brother, Roger, told The Bee that his brother was bipolar, schizophrenic and abused drugs. Roger lived with Freddy and their parents, and he questioned the need for such force.
The department was aware of Centeno’s mental illness, but Price and Lucero were not, Fresno police Lt. Mark Salazar said at the time. Centeno had been issued a misdemeanor citation in February 2015 for interfering with police, and officers had been called out to his home in March for a disturbance. They learned he was off his medication and had him evaluated by medical health personnel. He was arrested for allegedly possessing methamphetamine two days later.
The officers were around 15 feet from Centeno when the shooting occurred, Deputy Chief Pat Farmer said on Sept. 3.
Farmer said the officers told Centeno to show them his hands and get on the ground. Instead, he pulled a “pistol-looking object” from his waistband. After shooting him, the officers performed CPR on Centeno until an ambulance arrived.
Both officers were wearing tactical vests and driving a marked patrol car, Farmer said.
In the video released by lawyers, the officers yell for Centeno to get on the ground before the shooting, then command him to put his hands up once he has hit the ground. As officers exit the vehicle, Centeno does appear to have his hands around his waistband.
Guizar said that Centeno was holding the black garden hose nozzle at the time of the shooting, but that the violent and hasty response by officers was well beyond their legal limits.
“Say he threatened someone with a machine gun, is it OK to gun him down like a dog?” Guizar said. “We are not in a war zone; Fresno is a nice community.”
“This was an assassination,” co-council Cristobal Galindo added. “This was not someone who had an opportunity to acquiesce to commands.”
The attorneys said the purpose of the lawsuit was two-fold: To seek justice and restitution for a family that lost a father, brother and son, as well as to notify government officials of a major abuse of police power.
The lawsuit does not ask for any specific damages. Co-council Angel Carrazco said they plan to ask jurors to award what they think is fair given the video evidence and the family’s loss.
“We’re lucky to have obtained this (video),” Guizar said. “They usually make us jump through hoops.”
Guizar said that Galindo obtained the video through the court before the police department could stop the release or ask for a protective order barring it being shown to the public.
“We want change,” Guizar said.
Shortly after Centeno’s death, his family and local activists staged a protest outside of the Fresno Police Department. Roger Centeno said that his brother told the family he was going out for a walk, then was shot 10 minutes later.
The crowd called for better police training for dealing with mental illness or the use of less-lethal-than lethal ammunition.
The department began providing officers with de-escalation, implicit bias and mental health training in August 2015.
Fresno police Deputy Chief Robert Nevarez said the day of the protests that Centeno’s actions directly led to the officers opening fire.
“The caller said a gun was in his right shorts pocket,” Nevarez said. “Officers commanded him to raise his hands, and he grabbed for the object in his right front pocket and raised it towards them.”
“He sped up the time frame for decision-making with his actions.”
This story will be updated.