Death during arrest leads to suit against VPD

An officer of the Visalia Police Department knelt on the neck of a man in handcuffs, resulting in his death, a lawsuit filed in Tulare County Superior Court on November 30 alleges. Named as defendants in the case are the city of Visalia and the officers allegedly responsible for the death of Allan Aguirre on November 1, 2022.


Erratic Behavior Call Led to Death in Custody

According to the lawsuit, a 911 call reporting a person “acting erratically” at a strip-mall and gas station at the corner of Lovers Lane and Nobel Avenue in Visalia led to an interaction between the responding VPD officer and Aguirre, who was experiencing an obvious medical emergency.

The event was captured on video.

“What the officer initially saw, as depicted on video from the officer’s body camera, was Mr. Aguirre sitting down against a building wall next to a trash bin. There were a number of individuals standing around him and to the side,” the suit states. “Mr. Aguirre was screaming in pain holding his stomach. Mr. Aguirre was in such pain that the only verbal response he could give the officer was his name. Other than that communication, Mr. Aguirre simply screamed in pain while sitting down against the wall, he was not attempting to move nor flee.”

According to the suit, the officer should have immediately summoned medical aid.

“Instead, he arrested Mr. Aguirre,” the court filing states. “The officer went to where Mr. Aguirre was sitting, in stomach pain, minding his own business, and physically forced Mr. Aguirre to stand up, even though Mr. Aguirre had great difficulty doing so.”


Resisting Arrest

According to the case – filed by Visalia attorney Douglas Hurt on behalf of Aguirre’s mother, Marcia Villanueva – Aguirre began to struggle in pain as the officer attempted to place him in handcuffs by pulling his arms behind his back. The officer then placed the handcuffed Aguirre facedown on the ground and knelt on his upper back and neck until Aguirre died moments later.

“Once Mr. Aguirre was face down on the ground, with his hands cuffed behind his back, the officer then knelt down with his knee just below Mr. Aguirre’s neck, in his back,” the suit states. “Mr. Aguirre struggled for a short time being in that position. The officer then watched Mr. Aguirre’s leg flop and struggle, and then slowly stop moving as Mr. Aguirre died.”

The suit alleges Aguirre’s death was a direct result of his treatment at the hands of police and the officer’s failure to summon prompt medical aid before and after taking Aguirre into custody.

“The officer waited until Mr. Aguirre appeared to have died before calling emergency medical care to come to the scene,” the suit said.


Illegal Choke Hold

The restraining hold apparently used by the VPD officer is similar to the hold that led to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minn. in 2020. That death, also caught on video, led to the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement and calls for reforming policing.

Such so-called “carotid holds,” which cut off the blood supply to the brain, are banned in California. Department of Justice data reported by the Los Angeles Times shows that between 2016 and 2018, 103 people were “seriously injured” by officers using carotid neck holds. Two of those incidents resulted in the death of the individuals being detained.

Carotid holds were outlawed for all police agencies in California in 2020.

The suit against the city claims the officer’s response was not only illegal, but entirely unwarranted.

“Again, when the first officer arrived at the scene, Mr. Aguirre was sitting down against the wall in severe physical pain that was obvious to the officer. Mr. Aguirre was not moving, was not trying to flee, was not a threat to anyone, including the numerous bystanders that were around him,” the suit states.

The officer’s failure to summon medical help led directly to Aguirre’s death, the suit contends.


City Failed to Protect Aguirre

According to attorney Hurt, the city’s lack of proper training and oversight of its police officers led directly to the behavior that resulted in Aguirre’s death. According to the court filing, the city hired and maintained inadequately trained police officers.

The city, the suit alleges, failed to properly “supervise, discipline, train, control and review” officers’ conduct.

The death of Aguirre while in police custody, Hurt said, was the fallout of that behavior by city leaders.

“The question is: Are they responsible?” Hurt said. “Our opinion is they are.”

City leaders, by rejecting a liability claim resulting from the officer’s alleged involvement in Aguirre’s death, have reaffirmed the supposed negligent behavior on their part, Hurt said.

At the time of his death, Aguirre was under the influence of narcotics, Hurt said, and the city has claimed that was the primary cause of Aguirre’s death.

Hurt, however, maintains the situation with Aguirre was a medical emergency, not a criminal one.

“He had a drug problem. He had drugs in his system,” Hurt said.”Our position is this was a medical emergency.”

A case management conference to determine how the case will proceed is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Friday, March 29.

5 thoughts on “Death during arrest leads to suit against VPD

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  1. Well it’s about time someone sued Visalia police department I’m sorry about ur loss but they don’t know the situation and for that officer he should b responsible and charge him with murder it’s bs that they think they can get away with stuff

  2. I don’t know anything about this situation but drugs kill. People need to get off them- including marijuana. They need to get high on life. Get: a job,a girlfriend, wife buy a car or house. But, most important think of their family and friends. We’ve lost a lot of people because of: fentanyl, meth, cocaine, heroin and yes traffic accidents because of marijuana.

    • You are right you don’t know the situation. The guy had a mental disorder and sometimes the only way for people to deal with that was to do drugs to make the voices go away. He was in no way shape or form a bad guy, very sweet and caring actually. Wouldn’t hurt anyone. The whole thing is the police need to be trained better in mental health crisis. And even bigger problem we need better health care for everyone in the country.

  3. . I feel sorry for this man’s family & friends but cops are people too. They want to go home at night to their family too. The only people that know the situation are the cops and the people that were there. They have to make split second decisions that msot people never have to make. . Remember we lost a cop in Visalia before?? If he was hearing voices he should’ve been in a hospital– not taking drugs on the street. Gov Newsom signed into law to get homeless courts. To help people find homes or maybe mental help. Because, people shouldn’t be homeless in California most important if they have mental or drug issues. .

    • Cops should be held to a higher standard than civilians because it is required of them to do their job, so no sympathy for them in that regard. Cops are people that chose this calling to serve and protect and if they wont do that they should be held accountable. And the victim was not homeless, he wasn’t a problem he had a home and a family, he was just having a hard time with his health haven’t you ever struggled and been in a tough emotional or mental state? Police Serve and protect that’s what cops get paid to do. They didn’t do that. They failed him and if they failed him they’ll fail someone else next

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