The family of a mentally ill Woodland man who died in a confrontation with police last February has filed a wrongful death suit against the city and police, alleging officers are not properly trained in how to deal with citizens suffering from psychiatric problems.
The suit was filed in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of the parents and daughters of Michael Barrera, a 30-year-old man who died after being shot three times with a Taser and subdued by police.
Barrera had a large amount of methamphetamine in his system at the time and later died at a hospital from “methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement,” the Yolo county coroner’s office reported.
Eight officers were placed on administrative leave during a probe of the incident, but they subsequently returned to duty and the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office found police “used reasonable and necessary force.”
Barrera’s death sparked protests from area residents and his family, who contend he died needlessly.
Barrera attorney Stanley Goff and Woodland police did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment, but the lawsuit claims Barrera was placed face down in mud after being hit with a Taser. He had difficulty breathing, vomited and subsequently died, the lawsuit says.
Authorities have said the incident began in the afternoon of Feb. 8, 2017, after a 911 caller reported Barrera, wearing a towel and trench coat, was exposing himself to people at an apartment complex in the 1100 block of Matmor Road.
Police said one witness reported Barrera was carrying scissors and a chef’s knife, and that he later was seen swinging a golf club and acting erratically.
Woodland police said they tried to negotiate with Barrera to get him to drop the club, but he allegedly charged at them and was hit with a Taser and handcuffed.
The lawsuit, which names former Chief Dan Bellini and five officers, said police who responded to the scene “were aware of Michael’s past history of mental illness.”
“The defendant officers ordered Michael to get down on the ground, however, due to the psychotic break that Michael was suffering he simply walked away with the defendant officers following him,” the suit states.
A sergeant took Barrera down to the ground while Officer Parveen Lal shot him in the lower hip with his Taser, the suit says. Lal eventually used the Taser three times, the suit says, while another officer “issued multiple strikes to Michael’s face and head area.”
Officers grabbed his arms and legs and handcuffed him, and Barrera complained several times that he could not breathe, the lawsuit says.
“Due to his inability to breathe along with the other trauma that Michael endured, he began vomiting and liquid started coming out of his mouth,” the suit says. “Michael became unresponsive and subsequently died.”
The coroner’s report found that Barrera’s blood had a methamphetamine level of 1,800 nanograms per milliliter, a level that could be considered fatal, and that he could have died “without getting into an altercation with law enforcement.”