Witnesses to a deadly confrontation in January between Lodi police and a Gulf War Army veteran who suffered from mental illness said he never appeared to “charge” officers and that they saw no weapon in his hands before he was hit with a volley of bullets less than a block from his family’s home, according to interviews contained in newly released court documents.
Transcripts of the witness interviews are included in a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the family of Parminder Singh Shergill, who was 43 when he was killed by police as he made his way back to his mother’s Elderica Way home in Lodi on Jan. 25. The lawsuit includes statements from 17 people, interviewed by investigators for the plaintiffs, who said they witnessed some part of the confrontation.
Shergill’s family said they contacted Lodi police early that Saturday morning to ask for the department’s help in bringing him home after he left his mother’s house in an agitated state. He had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder years before, his family said, and often took long walks to help quell the mental anguish that began to torment him after his honorable discharge from the Army in 1996.
Lodi officers found Shergill a few minutes later, walking past a nearby park, and attempted to make contact. The 17 witnesses whose interviews are included in the court documents describe different portions of the confrontation and its aftermath. Only two said they saw the actual shooting.
Those two said Shergill shouted something at the two officers, Scott Bratton and Adam Lockie, who were trailing him with their weapons drawn. Both said Shergill did not appear to be holding a weapon, and that he was shot as he turned toward the officers.
Lodi police have declined to release a detailed description of the events that led to Shergill’s death, citing an ongoing investigation involving multiple agencies that they said could take as long as a year. The department has released a general explanation saying that the two officers had no choice but to kill Shergill after he charged them with a knife.
Witness statements contradict that account, said Sacramento attorney Mark Merin, who filed the lawsuit on the family’s behalf. Police spokesman Lt. Sierra Brucia did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, names as defendants the city of Lodi, its police department, and Bratton and Lockie. It alleges that the two officers were improperly trained to respond to people with mental illness and killed Shergill without good cause. It asks for unspecified financial damages based on violations of Shergill’s constitutional rights and the rights of his family.
“The further we look into this case, the more adamant we are that this was an unjustified killing,” Merin said as he stood with members of Shergill’s family during a news conference in front of the federal courthouse on I Street.
Merin said he expedited filing the suit and took the unusual step of releasing witness statements in an effort to put pressure on authorities to provide autopsy and toxicology reports, transcripts of 911 calls made from the mother’s residence and other information that might shed light on why officers shot Shergill.
“We are unable to get any information from the people who know what happened,” Merin said. “So we will proceed to seek that information through federal litigation,” which will allow the defense to interview witnesses under oath, including the officers who fired the shots.
The veteran and his relatives were no strangers to Lodi police. Kulbinder Sohota, Shergill’s sister, said family members had periodically called upon the department in recent years to take her brother to hospitals or clinics when he was having a particularly wrenching mental health “episode,” in which he heard voices and appeared out of touch with reality. Usually, she said, the police were helpful.
Records obtained by The Sacramento Bee show that 10 emergency calls have been placed from the family’s address to the department since 2009.
On Jan. 25, when Shergill became agitated and abruptly left home, a family member again called police. Bratton and Lockie responded. Family members said the officers told them they would be unable to detain Shergill because he was not deemed a threat to himself or others, but that they would try to find and talk to him.
Minutes later, the officers discovered him in a park several blocks from the family home, according to the lawsuit. Witness accounts included in the court documents state that Bratton and Lockie began following Shergill and shouting at him, and that he failed to respond. They said Shergill’s pace was slow and that he did not seem agitated as he made his way toward home.
Bob Mendes was working inside his open garage when he saw the confrontation, according to his witness statement.
He watched as officers, with their guns trained on Shergill, followed him down Elderica, according to his statement. He said he heard Shergill yell something unintelligible and turn slightly to his left to face the officers. Shergill raised his right hand “to eye level,” according to Mendes’ statement, and did not appear to have a knife. Shergill, he said, took a few steps toward the officers, prompting them to shoot.
Another witness offered a similar account.
Timothy Antolin said in his statement that he was on the second floor of his home overlooking Elderica when he “heard someone say, ‘Stop, we want to talk to you,’ and then, ‘Drop the weapon.’ ” He went to the window, according to the statement, and heard Shergill shout, “You talking to me?” followed by a curse word. As Shergill spoke, he turned to his left, facing the officers, “but not in a threatening manner, nor did he move toward the officers or close the distance between them,” according to Antolin’s account.
Following the shooting, Antolin said, he saw officers handcuff Shergill and start “rummaging through” his clothing. After walking out of his house, Antolin saw items strewn about Shergill’s body. Among those items, he said, was a 3-inch folding knife with a belt clip.
Sohota said Thursday her brother carried such a knife in his pocket, using it for tasks such as opening mail.
A third witness to the confrontation, Nicolaus Jimenez, was standing in his driveway when he saw the slow pursuit, according to his statement. “He overheard an officer say, ‘Stop, sir; stop, sir,’ as the officer followed on foot,” the statement said. Jimenez said he was standing “in clear view” and about 30 feet from Shergill. He “did not see anything in either of Shergill’s hands,” according to the interview statement. Moments later, he heard a series of shots “in rapid succession.”
He said he found 14 empty bullet casings in his driveway.
Others who were familiar with Shergill and his family but did not witness the shooting described him as quiet and friendly, never threatening. Merin said Shergill had the legal right to refuse to talk with the officers who were following him that morning.
“People do not have to submit to an officer’s interrogation when they simply are walking down the street,” he said. “For those officers to yell at him, pursue him, and then kill him, it’s outrageous.”
Call The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @Cynthia_Hubert.