A lawyer representing the 18-year-old daughter of Brian Tacadena filed a $10 million wrongful death claim against the City of Santa Barbara and its police department on Thursday morning. Brian Tacadena was shot and killed September 1 by a Santa Barbara police officer on De la Vina Street. The claim comes a few weeks after the District Attorney’s Office released a lengthy report that called the shooting a “justifiable homicide,” stating that Tacadena refused to comply with the officer’s orders while he was high on drugs and walking on the street with a large, military-style knife.
Attorney James Segall-Gutierrez, Tacadena’s family members, and representatives from PODER (People Organizing for the Defense and Equal Rights) held a press conference at City Hall Thursday to highlight supposed discrepancies in the DA’s report and to vocally oppose the gang injunction for its racial connotations.
Followed by a crowd of reporters and cameramen, Segall walked inside and submitted the claim — which includes allegations of failure to summon medical assistance, negligence, battery, and excessive force — to the clerk’s office around 10:30 a.m. City administrators have 45 days to respond to the claim, and Segall-Gutierrez said he will file in federal court if the city does not respond.
Segall-Gutierrez is based in Whittier — working on cases in San Francisco, Arizona, and Los Angeles — and handles wrongful-death and immigration-abuse cases. He recently settled a case in Los Angeles after an incident in 2010 where an armed 20-year-old man named Jonathan Cuevas was fatally shot multiple times by a Sheriff’s deputy, according to the Los Angeles Wave. The county agreed to pay $875,000 — the family sued for $5 million — to settle in September.
For the Tacadena case, Segall-Gutierrez called for a third party to investigate the incident. Though he did not address many of the report’s specific findings during the press conference, Segall-Guiterrez said the report stated Tacadena was hit by only one bullet — the DA’s Office said five total shots were fired — but claimed the family saw multiple gunshot wounds when they viewed Tacadena’s body.
PODER representative and Santa Barbara native Gaby Hernandez told the crowd police-brutality issues in Santa Barbara stem back to the 1970s, and she called for higher scrutiny and accountability of police officers. She went on to explain the process of submitting a police complaint is not as easy and accessible as it should be.
“We’re not going to wait until 12 or 13 people are killed like in Anaheim or Orange County for us to react,” she said. “It could have been resolved a different way.” Hernandez claimed the police department was aware of Tacadena’s history of mental illness and should have approached the situation differently. Tacadena had been arrested at least two dozen times for various weapon- and drug-related felonies and spent time in prison and jail over the last few decades.
Hernandez also expressed frustration that the DA’s report claimed Tacadena was affiliated with the Nazi Low Riders, a white supremacist gang. The report stated Tacadena, who was of mixed race, had multiple gang tattoos on his body and drawings of swastikas on his boots, but said it was unclear if Tacadena was an active member of the organization. “Usually when you hear gang member, you right away disconnect; you don’t really care,” Hernandez said. “Nobody questions it.”
“These are humans. It dehumanizes people,” she went on. “We need to start caring and questioning. … How do they characterize someone as a gang member?”
Community activist Martin Leyva also criticized police officers for painting an unfair picture of suspects’ past as a justification for murder. “Humans are worth more than that. … The police department should use shooting as a last resort.”
Brandon Morse, president of Cop Watch (a new organization to hold officers accountable for their actions) and secretary of the Republican Liberty Caucus, said he was skeptical of the fact that the police officer’s dash-cam was not working at the time of the shooting. He said Tacadena’s death is a perfect example of why the proposed gang injunction is unjust. “A lot of information [in the report] was not relevant to the overall case,” Morse stated.
“[Police chief] Cam Sanchez has modified the numbers and cooked the books to over-inflate gang crime here in Santa Barbara,” Morse claimed, urging people to document any police incident they see — whether positive or negative — with their cell-phone cameras since “film recording does not lie.”
City administrators and police department officials said they do not comment on pending litigation. The group of Tacadena supporters plans to hold a march at the courthouse at 12:30 p.m. next Tuesday and speak during public comment at the City Council meeting.