LODI -- When the aftereffects of his post-traumatic stress disorder made him very anxious, Parminder Singh Shergill, a Gulf War veteran from one of the Central Valley’s most established Sikh families, would simply start walking.
A tall, soft-spoken man who relatives said kept his problems mostly to himself, Shergill, 43, was a familiar face in the tidy Lodi neighborhood where he lived with his mother and younger brother.
Last Saturday morning, family members said, he was battling his internal demons. After an anxious discussion with his mother, they said, he left on foot into the streets of his subdivision on the north end of town.
According to his cousin, Sacramento attorney Jack Johal, Shergill’s mother called police, worried about her son’s state of mind. Lodi officers intercepted Shergill not far from his home. What happened next is a matter of dispute.
Police officials said Shergill was armed with a knife, refused to respond to orders and lunged at officers, prompting them to open fire. He died just down the block from his family’s home.
Johal, a former prosecutor in Pennsylvania, said he has taped interviews with witnesses to the shooting who tell another story.
The case has prompted questions and outrage in Lodi, where on Friday night hundreds of people, many in traditional Sikh garb, lit candles and prayed in Shergill’s honor.
“Parminder served in the Army,” said his sister Kulbinder Sahota, breaking into sobs. “He did not deserve to die the way he did.”
Lodi police have released scant information about what happened on Elderica Way on the morning that Shergill died, including how many shots were fired, at what distance and details about the knife that officers said they recovered at the scene.
Lt. Sierra Brucia, a department spokesman, said an investigation is underway to determine whether the shooting was justified.
Brucia said officers responded to a call about “a disturbance” on the street that morning, spotted Shergill and approached him on foot. Shergill, he said, “was armed with a knife and charged at officers. As a result, they shot him.”
He described the weapon as “a folding blade knife,” and declined to elaborate.
Johal said Shergill sometimes carried a pocket knife but that family members are unsure whether he had it when he left home last Saturday.
The fatal shooting in a quiet neighborhood of stucco homes and tended yards has shaken members of the Sikh community and others who knew Shergill, whose ancestors first emigrated from India to the Central Valley in the early 1900s.
Besides his mother and brother, Shergill has many relatives in the area, including Sahota, who lives near their mother’s home.
“It’s shocking. Unbelievable that something like this could happen to him,” said Gina Mendes, whose family has lived across the street from Shergill’s mother for seven years.
Shergill was born in Jagapur, India, and came to America with his parents when he was about 5 years old, according to Johal. After graduating from Lodi High School, he joined the Army, serving in Germany for two years before fighting on the front lines as an infantryman in Iraq during the Gulf War, Johal said.
He began showing symptoms of PTSD after his honorable discharge from the military in 1995, his cousin said. The condition is often accompanied by severe anxiety, flashbacks and depression.
After studying biochemistry at the University of the Pacific in Stockton and at Sacramento State, said Johal, Shergill worked as a supervisor at Pacific Coast Producers, a food production company based in Lodi. But his disability ultimately proved too disruptive for him to continue working, Johal said.
Recently, Shergill had become “very religious” and spent many of his waking hours “reading and in contemplation,” sitting in the park or walking around the city, Johal said. He and others described Shergill as “quiet and introverted” when he was feeling poorly, but otherwise friendly and engaging.
“He was a very, very kind man. Very friendly,” said Mendes. “Very humble. Very private, never threatening. Everybody loved seeing him and talking to him. He is already missed.”
Johal, who specializes in tax and probate law, said Shergill’s mother, Sukhwinder Kaur, occasionally called Lodi police when her son failed to take his psychiatric medications and became “nervous and antsy.” Sometimes, he said, police would drive Shergill to the Veterans Administration Stockton Clinic for treatment.
Last Saturday, “something happened at the house, and there were a few words between him and his mom, and he took off,” Johal said. Kaur called police, telling them her son had been anxious and fidgety before he left, Johal said.
Accounts differ as to what happened after that.
Johal said he interviewed a half-dozen witnesses who were in their yards or saw the scene through their windows that day. None “said that Parm was acting in a threatening manner,” and none saw a weapon in his hands, Johal said. One witness said she heard a volley of shots that sounded like firecrackers, he said.
Paramedics arrived minutes after the shooting but were unable to revive Shergill, Johal said.
Several neighbors contacted by The Bee declined to speak on the record about what they saw on the morning Shergill was killed. Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin is representing Shergill’s family in the case.
“We want to know if the officers who contacted Parminder on the day of his death were aware of his mental health status and if not, why not,” Merin said. “If they were aware of his condition, why did they not demonstrate skills in dealing with a mentally ill person? Were they not properly trained?”
Shergill, Merin said, “had a perfect right to refuse to talk with police and to walk away from them. It appears that Parminder’s refusal to converse with the officers and answer their questions led to their decision to shoot him. Clearly, even if they were privileged to detain him, lesser degrees of force were available and should have been used.
“It appears that this is a case of use of excessive, totally unjustified force,” in violation of state and federal law, he said.
Merin said his investigator spoke with witnesses who estimated that Shergill was about 20 feet from the officers when they shot him. Witnesses counted 14 shell casings on the sidewalk after the shooting, he said.
A panel of investigators from the Lodi Police Department, the California Department of Justice and the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office have begun investigating the matter, said Brucia. The names of the officers involved in the shooting, both law enforcement veterans, according to Brucia, have not been released. Further details will be released only after the investigation is complete, he said.
“If someone is charging an officer and is a moving target, the officer can’t just shoot them in the leg,” Brucia said. “You’ve got to stop the suspect’s actions, stop the threat. The center of the body is the obvious target.”