Federal jury returns $10 million verdict in shooting case involving Riverside County deputy – KESQ

A federal jury awarded $10 million to the family of a man who was fatally shot by a Riverside County Sheriff’s Sergeant attempting to arrest him for attempting to attack people, including the law enforcement officer, with a stick and a baseball bat. .

The family of 36-year-old Clemente Najera sued the county and Sgt. Dan Ponder for the 2016 shooting based on excessive use of force in violation of Nájera’s civil rights, specifically those guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, according to court documents.

Following a trial in the US District Court in Los Angeles, the jury Wednesday found the county and Ponder liable and unanimously awarded the plaintiffs $10 million.

“I am very pleased with the jury’s verdict,” attorney Dale Galipo said. “I think the jury’s verdict speaks to the value of human life and the need to be held accountable when officers use excessive deadly force. I am particularly happy for Mr. Nájera’s three children.”

The county Executive Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the plaintiffs, the trial evidence contradicted the official account of the events that occurred on the day of the shooting in which the deputy was involved.

Galipo said that Nájera “turned his back on Sergeant Ponder and despite Ponder’s acknowledgment that (Nájera) was no longer a threat, (he) continued to fire at him, fatally hitting him twice in the back.”

The defendants’ original points and authorities, filed in court in 2019, provided a detailed account of what transpired based on Ponder’s recollection and those of at least half a dozen witnesses.

According to the document, late in the afternoon of April 15, 2016, Aguirre had been seen by numerous people, including Cal Fire personnel, walking through a Lake Elsinore neighborhood, wielding a club, allegedly using it to knock over mailboxes and break car windows .

When he arrived at Irma Muñoz’s home, Aguirre allegedly threatened the woman and her sister, who entered the residence with other people and locked the front door, at which point the suspect “went through the house, breaking windows,” the police said. narrative. .

It was never established why the residence was attacked.

Muñoz’s brother, José Orozco, grabbed a baseball bat and came out to confront Nájera. Another neighbor crossed the street with two bats of his own, but quickly placed them under the bushes in front of Munoz’s house in an effort to defuse the situation, according to the defendants’ file.

At the time, Ponder, who was the watch commander for the sheriff’s Lake Elsinore station that day, was the only officer available to handle the calls because the other four units on patrol were busy with investigations.

Responding to 911 calls from Munoz and others, the law enforcement officer encountered Nájera in front of the woman’s residence, holding the stick menacingly and focusing on the neighbor who had put his two bats under the bushes. Munoz stood with his hands up and asked Nájera in Spanish to calm down, the defendants said.

Ponder drew his weapon but kept it pointed downward in the “low ready position” while he ordered the suspect to drop the stick, maintaining a 10- to 12-foot separation and drawing the pepper spray from its holster, according to the police. narration.

Ponder made several “code 3″ calls for assistance from any unit, but heard no acknowledgment. He went on to order Nájera to drop the stick, which the man was ‘holding in batter’s stance … facing the sergeant. Reflect,” the narration said.

“Ponder and some of the witnesses also heard Nájera verbally refusing to comply,” the document says.

The sergeant tried twice to unload his pepper spray canister in Nájera’s face, but the distance and the wind mitigated the impact. Nájera then put down his stick, apparently ready to surrender, but grabbed one of two bats that had been hidden in the bushes and “quickly moved toward Ponder … in batter’s position,” according to the defense.

When Nájera was about seven feet away, the sergeant “fired six rounds…aiming at the forward center mass,” the narrative says.

The suspect fell to the ground after the last bullet was fired and died instantly. Ponder was not injured.

“A later autopsy showed that some of the shots entered Nájera from the front, while others entered from the rear at a steep side angle,” according to the narration.

No explanation for Nájera’s behavior was provided.

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