Lodi police release 911 call, audio of officer response in Army vet shooting
05/06/2014 12:00 AM
08/07/2014 6:13 AM
A Lodi Police Department dispatcher took the 911 call shortly after 9 a.m. on an unusually warm Saturday in late January. The caller said her brother-in-law was mentally ill, and that he was yelling, “going crazy” and attacking his mother. Was the man off his medications? the dispatcher asked. “Yes,” the caller replied.
A few minutes later, two police officers responding to the call spotted the man, Army veteran Parminder Singh Shergill, walking past the basketball courts in Peterson Park, just blocks from the home he shared with his mother and brother on a trim suburban street in Lodi, 40 miles south of Sacramento.
“He has a knife in his right hand,” one of the officers said, according to an audio recording of chatter between officers and the dispatcher that morning. “He’s refusing my commands.”
The officer told the dispatcher to advise the man’s family to barricade their door. “We have a subject armed with a knife, very agitated, right hand,” he said.
Then, following a brief pause: “Shots fired!” the second officer said.
“I got a man down!” the first officer continued. “I need an ambulance code three and a supervisor.”
At 9:25 that morning, 19 minutes after his family’s 911 call, Shergill, 43, lay immobile from a volley of bullets fired by the two veteran officers. Shortly afterward, he was pronounced dead.
According to family members, Shergill suffered from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder – fallout from his Army service during the Gulf War. More than three months after his death, they continue to demand answers, asking whether deadly force was the officers’ only option and whether the officers should have been better trained in handling people with mental illness.
Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms, in response to inquiries from The Sacramento Bee and others for information about the shooting, on Monday released several photos, transcripts and audio recordings related to the case.
Helms released an audio recording of the 911 call and the chatter among responding officers, photos of the knife that officers say Shergill used to threaten them, and brief information about the department’s previous interactions with Shergill’s family. He also released a short summary of the department’s initial investigation.
“We are not drawing any conclusions,” Helms said when asked whether officers appeared justified in killing Shergill. A broader probe by multiple agencies is continuing, he added. “We just want to be as transparent as we possibly can at this time. This is factual information. It really is not disputable.”
In the recording of the 911 call, Shergill’s brother’s wife, Kuldeep, calmly tells a Lodi police dispatcher that her brother-in-law is “paranoid schizophrenic” and “going crazy.’
“He’s yelling, he’s attacking” his mother, she reports.
By the time police arrived, Parminder Shergill had left the home. The two officers set out to “verbally detain him to investigate the reported assault and check his welfare,” according to a summary released by police.
“Evidence from the investigation indicates that Shergill had produced a tactical knife and opened the blade,” threatening the officers, the summary reads.
“Officers fired their handguns and Shergill fell to the ground and no longer was a threat to their safety.”
Helms said the newly released documents dispel the notion that Shergill was never violent, as family members and several neighbors have stated. He noted that Shergill had previous arrests, which court records show include threats against his former wife and having a concealed weapon in his car.
The Police Department has said that Shergill charged the two officers with the knife, and that they had no choice but to open fire. Fourteen shots were fired at Shergill, the department confirmed Monday.
For the first time, the department released a photo of the knife that police say Shergill was carrying. The photos show a utility knife, a folding model about 8 inches long including a serrated blade of about 31/2 inches, with a U.S. Army insignia on the handle.
The second audio recording documents the communications between officers and the dispatcher as they sought Shergill, then shot him. After Shergill fell, according to the recording, officers immediately called for an ambulance.
Minutes later, one of them declared the situation a “code four,” meaning they had the incident under control. “Suspect is in custody,” the officer said. “We’ll be administering first aid.”
Shergill’s family, as well as the lawyer who is representing them in a civil lawsuit, took issue with some of the information released Monday.
Kulbinder Sohota, Shergill’s sister, said neither she nor other relatives recognize the knife depicted in the police photographs. She has described her brother as gentle and law-abiding, but tormented by flashbacks, nightmares and voices related to his military service in Iraq.
“I have never seen that knife,” Sohota said. “To my knowledge, my brother did not have a knife like that.”
Mark Merin, the Sacramento attorney who has filed the family’s civil rights lawsuit, said witnesses have told a story different from what is reflected in the police documents. Merin said that at least three people who saw portions of Shergill’s encounter with police told his investigators that they did not see a knife in Shergill’s hand.
Merin said the knife pictured in the police photos could have been “tossed down” by officers after they shot Shergill.
“It appears to be a ‘throwdown,’ which occurs when officers need justification for deadly force,” Merin said. “The officers take a knife out and simply throw it down.”
The police chief said he was offended by the suggestion.
“It’s not the first time I’ve heard an allegation like this,” Helms said. “He is accusing us of dishonesty, of lying, and that is quite offensive. It’s simply not true.”
Merin said that, based on previous interactions between Lodi police and Shergill, officers should have known he was mentally ill and been trained to intervene without killing him. Helms has said that Lodi officers and other “first responders” might need further training in techniques for dealing with the increasing number of mentally ill people they are encountering, but also that officers who fear for their safety must shoot to “stop the threat.”
Documents released Monday show 10 calls to Lodi police, between 2009 and 2014, from the home where Shergill lived. Four of the calls were related to “mental health” issues, the documents state. In most of those cases, officers were able to calm Shergill and relatives declined to press charges against him, police have said.
Sohota and Merin said Shergill yelled at his mother the day he was killed but never physically harmed anyone. They pointed out that both of the court cases cited by Helms were dismissed.
Shergill’s death has roiled residents of Lodi and its Sikh community, sparking town hall meetings and an Internet petition. Sikhs and other supporters of Shergill’s family plan to address the Lodi City Council on Wednesday night. To defend itself in the civil lawsuit, the city of Lodi has hired two private attorneys with experience in civil rights and police liability cases.
Merin said he is not satisfied with the information released Monday by the Police Department. “It’s incomplete,” he said. “I am waiting for more,” including witness statements and the autopsy report.
Helms said that information would not be released until the full inquiry is completed, and he would not speculate when that might occur. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office will make the final determination as to whether the shooting was justified.
Sacto 911 StaffBill Lindelof
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