(At least 100 people from southwest Fresno gathered at the Hinton Community Center hoping for violence to stop in the city. VIDEO BY ANTHONY GALAVIZ)
The family of a man killed by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county seeking not just financial relief but also major changes in the office including wearing body cameras.
Attorney Nicholas “Butch” Wagner, who represents the family of police shooting victim Kenneth Mullins, said he wants to see substantive changes in the sheriff’s office to hopefully prevent fewer officer-involved shootings and deaths.
“We are talking about better procedures and training, and requiring deputies to wear body cams is part of that,” Wagner said. “There can’t just be this knee jerk reaction to just shoot first.”
Sparking the lawsuit was the death of 32-year-old Mulllins, who was shot and killed by two deputies on March 6, 2020, after he broke into Jamie’s Auto Dismantling near Church and West avenues.
According to the sheriff’s office news release, deputies used a loudspeaker to try and get Mullins out and at one point they sent in a tactical robot to see who was inside. After a few minutes, Mullins walked out. Deputies gave him commands, but they said he did not comply. Two deputies fired multiple shots, striking and killing Mullins.
Wagner said Mullins, who was homeless and had mental illness, did not have a gun.
“At no time did Kenneth Mullins make any threats to the deputies, prior to the sheriff deputies’ firearms being discharged into Kenneth Mullins’ body. At no time did any of the deputies draw their taser, or any other optional nonlethal weapon at their disposal,” the lawsuit states. “The deputies’ decision to shoot Kenneth Mullins multiple times including several ‘kill shots’ to his head evinced their intention to execute the unarmed man for the act of trespassing, rather than maim or otherwise disable their victim in order to apprehend him.”
Sheriff’s office spokesman Tony Botti declined to comment on the lawsuit because the matter is in litigation.
WAS USE OF FORCE JUSTIFIED?
Wagner blames the department’s unwavering support for its deputies as part of the problem with the unjustified use of excessive force.
“As a result of this failure to address and discipline, the County of Fresno and its Sheriff’s Department have fostered an environment and created a culture and belief that it is permissible to use excessive force, up to and including deadly force, against civilians without fear of repercussion, accountability or disciplinary action by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department,“ the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit, filed in Fresno County Superior Court on Friday, is on behalf of Mullins’ 6-year-old daughter and her mother, Rosemary Hinojosa Mullins. It asks for damages for several complaints, including excessive force, failure to train, negligence, wrongful death and injunctive relief.
LAWSUIT SEEKS BODY CAMERAS ON DEPUTIES
The lawsuit is also asking the judge to issue a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction ordering the sheriff’s office to stop “all practices and procedures that serve to facilitate the unreasonable use of force by sheriff deputies; and train and equip their employees in a manner that minimizes the unnecessary use of force, including, but not limited to, the use of de-escalation techniques, the use of unarmed personnel, the use of non-lethal force to effect an arrest.”
Along with increased training, the lawsuit seeks better screening of sheriff candidates and an effective procedure for the independent review of all claims of sheriff misconduct and all instances of deadly force.
It also requires all sheriff deputies to be equipped with body cameras at all times when sheriff deputies confront or engage with any individual.
Officers with the Fresno and Clovis police departments have been wearing body cameras for several years.
READ THE ARTICLE ON FRESNO BEE