Lawsuit claims TCSO, Tulare PD negligent in 2022 shooting death

Jesse Garcia Jr. was about to surrender to officers when they shot him to death on the side of the road in rural Tulare on December 1, 2022, according to a wrongful death suit filed recently on behalf of one of his surviving children.


Officers Fired 71 Times

At just after 1 a.m. on the morning of Thursday, December 1, 2022, Tulare County Sheriff’s deputy Timothy Holbrook spotted a white pickup truck parked beside an orchard near the corner of Cartmill Avenue and West Street in rural Tulare. According to the suit, Garcia and a female companion were sleeping inside the truck, which was legally parked.

Holbrook and other officers were searching for a white pickup truck that had been stolen the previous night and was similar to the one in which Garcia was sleeping at the time he was contacted by officers. Following a 30-minute confrontation between Garcia and TCSO deputies and officers of the Tulare Police Department, Garcia was shot and killed.

The suit claims officers fired 71 times at the 38-year-old Garcia, who died at the scene.

The stolen truck sought by officers was a Chevrolet; the truck driven by Garcia was a Ford. Garcia was not wanted by police and was not suspected of committing a crime, and there were no reports of suspicious activity in the area where Garcia and his companion were sleeping.


TCSO Claims Garcia Pointed a Gun

According to a press release regarding the shooting released by the TCSO on the day Garcia was killed, Garcia spent about half an hour refusing to comply with officers demands. He was eventually shot with a Taser, which the TCSO claims didn’t work.

The TCSO report claims Garcia then pointed a gun at officers, prompting them to fire their weapons, striking him repeatedly. Deputies attempted unsuccessfully to provide medical aid before Garcia expired at the scene.

The lawsuit, filed by Visalia attorney Derek Wisehart on behalf of Garcia’s minor son, claims the stun gun fired by TCSO deputy Erik Osuna performed correctly. Any movement by Garcia in the moment directly before he was shot was the result of being stunned, the suit said. Several of the officers, according to the suit, described a “physical jolt” by Garcia when the stun gun was used.

The lawsuit describes the remaining seven officers then firing for seven seconds, discharging their weapons 71 times at Garcia. The Taser was still discharging when officers began shooting, the suit claims.

“There are videos in this case,” Wisehart said. “We don’t have them all.”

The TCSO and TPD have been instructed to preserve all video of the incident recorded by officers.


Officers, County and City Named as Defendants

The nine officers named as defendants in the lawsuit include TCSO deputies Holbrook and Osuna, as well as deputy Monique Mendoza. Also named as defendants are Tulare Police Department officers Cpl. Vincent Medina, Marissa Bolanos, Andrea Mercado, Alexis Macias, Justin Hampton and Daniel Grewe. Also named as defendants are Tulare County and the city of Tulare.

The suit was filed in Tulare County Superior Court on November 30. It has since been moved to federal court, Wisehart said.

The complaint for damages alleges multiple violations of Garcia’s Fourth Amendment rights, including false arrest and detention, use of excessive force, and denial of medical care, as the suit claims officers were slow to provide care following the shooting. The suit claims the officers assaulted Garcia, causing his wrongful death by battery and negligence.

“This is an egregious situation that didn’t have to end like it did,” Wisehart said.

Wisehart’s clients include Garcia’s minor son, and his parents Monica Garcia and Jesse Garcia Sr. The suit seeks unspecified monetary compensation for the alleged wrongful death, violation of civil rights, damages and infliction of emotional distress.

“(The officers named as defendants) and each of them, intentionally and unlawfully, by means of force, excessive force, deadly force, duress, menace, threats, and use of official authority, restrained, detained, arrested, and/or utilized excessive and deadly force upon (Garcia) without necessity or justification,” the suit states.


TCSO, Lawsuit Versions of Events Differ

According to the initial statement from the TCSO regarding the shooting of Garcia, officers were on the lookout for a Chevrolet pickup truck stolen the night of November 30 from a business on South O Street in Tulare when Holbrook contacted Garcia in his white Ford pickup truck at about 1:10 a.m. on December 1.

The TCSO described the truck’s occupants as two men, however, Garcia was with an unnamed female at the time he was killed.

During a 30-minute confrontation, the TCSO said officers “pleaded” with Garcia to comply with their orders. When Garcia refused, Osuna used his stun gun on Garcia. According to the TCSO account, it failed.

“The man (Garcia) then pulled out a gun and pointed it in the direction of officers and deputies,” The TCSO statement said. “Deputies and TPD officers on scene fired their guns at the man, hitting him several times. Life-saving efforts were performed by Deputies. But, the 38-year-old man died at the scene.”

The events described in the lawsuit provide a very different account. Garcia, the filing says, only moved spasmodically once struck by Osuna’s stun gun. Officers then fired their weapons within a second of the stun gun’s use, the suit claims.

“If it’s not one second, it’s less than two,” Wisehart said. “And he’s still being tased as he’s being shot.”


Suit Claims Bad Policing, Negligence

The primary claim made in the suit against officers and their employers involves widespread negligent policing and inadequate oversight, and Wisehart claims statements from the officers involved support the assertion.

Prominent in the 12 causes for action listed in the suit are alleged poor police practice on the part of the officers who shot Garcia. The suit claims there was no legal basis for officers to contact Garcia and his companion and that their detention of the pair was a violation of their civil rights.

The stunning and shooting of Garcia were also not warranted, as Garcia was attempting to surrender to police when he was killed.

According to Wisehart, the last thing Garcia said to police was, “Don’t Taser me, dude!” and “Just don’t, bro. I’ll show you my right hand if you don’t.”

The officers, the suit says, were not adequately trained by the TCSO and the city of Tulare, and their employers share responsibility for Garcia’s death. Because both agencies denied claims for damages resulting from Garcia’s death after claiming the shooting was “within policy,” the suit claims the negligence is systemic and ongoing.

“This case is about the police’s conduct,” Wisehart said.


Garcia Had a Gun

Not mentioned in the TCSO version of the event is the revelation officers learned Garcia was in possession of an unloaded firearm in the moments before he was killed.

During the confrontation between Garcia and the officers, Garcia apparently kept his right hand out of the officers’ view and refused to comply with orders to reveal it. At some point before the shooting occurred, officers placed Garcia’s female companion in the back of a patrol car, and the woman informed one of the officers Garcia was in possession of an unloaded firearm.

While the officers confronting Garcia learned he had a gun, they were not informed it was unloaded. They learned of the firearm immediately before Garcia was shot, and, according to the lawsuit, moments after he agreed to comply with officers’ orders.

Two TPD officers are quoted in the suit regarding Garcia’s behavior in the moments immediately before he died. Officer Mercado described Garcia as “very passive but very uncooperative,” while officer Bolano described Garcia as “very passive, obviously he has the right hand covered, not attempting to move.”

The suit claims the failure of the officer who learned Garcia was armed to inform the other officers the weapon was unloaded amounts to negligent behavior.


TPD K9 Wouldn’t Bite

The lawsuit also claims the TPD employed an improperly trained canine officer that failed to perform as commanded. TPD officer Grewe ordered his dog three times to incapacitate Garcia by biting his hidden right arm.

“It (the canine officer) did not bite him,” Wisehart said. “It failed to engage with (Garcia) and jumped in the back seat two or three times.”

Wisehart maintains that had the dog been properly trained and handled, it could have subdued Garcia, preventing his death.

Once Garcia was wounded, the suit claims the officers then failed to provide timely medical care.

“When did they check his pulse?” Wisehart said. “I don’t want to be specific about that.”

While Wisehart believes the actions of the officers that night and the general behavior of their employers led to Garcia’s death, he does not expect criminal charges against the officers.

“I’m definitely not expecting criminal action based on the information I have,” he said.


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