A federal appeals court has revived a civil rights lawsuit filed against the city of Huntington Beach by a mother whose son was shot and killed by a police officer outside a 7-Eleven across the street from Marina High School.
A panel of 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges in an opinion released Wednesday reverses a previous ruling by U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton, who found no evidence that Officer Eric Esparza improperly detained or use excessive force against 27-year-old Dillan Tabares during a deadly encounter on Sept. 22, 2017.
The appellate judges determined that jurors presented with the facts of the shooting could potentially find that the officer should have suspected Tabares had mental health issues, that the officer could have deescalated the situation prior to shooting Tabares or that shooting Tabares six times without warning may have been unreasonable.
“We acknowledge the severe stress that can result from situations where an officer may feel his safety is at risk,” Judge Ryan D. Nelson wrote. “Ultimately, we do not ‘hold that a reasonable jury must find in favor of the plaintiff on this record, only that it could.’”
The shooting was captured on cell-phone video and quickly spread across social media, drawing widespread attention. Police later announced that Tabares’ was believed to be responsible for the Sept. 19, 2017 beating death of 80-year-old Richard Darland, who authorities said had tried to help Tabares get back on his feet.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office previously cleared Officer Eric Esparza of any criminal wrongdoing in the fatal shooting, determining his actions were “reasonable and justified under the circumstances.”
According to the DA report, witnesses told investigators that Tabares “looked out of it” as he was “shouting and arguing” with Esparza and ignoring the officers commands to stop walking toward him. The officer used a Taser on Tabares, according to the DA report, to no apparent effect.
Cell phone video showed Tabares punching Esparza in the face, and the officer then wrestling Tabares to the ground. In the midst of that struggle, the video footage shows Tabares grabbing what would later turn out to be a black flashlight off Esparza’s belt, and the officer backing up several feet, drawing his gun and firing at Tabares.
Police-worn body-camera footage in the aftermath of the shooting captured Esparza telling another officer that Tabares was “trying to take my gun.”
The federal lawsuit alleges the officer had no reason to detain or arrest Tabares and accuses him of using excessive force. The appellate opinion means it will be sent back to the federal courthouse in Santa Ana.
Source: Orange County Register