None of us knows if the shooting death of a mentally ill Army veteran by Lodi police was justified or whether gun-wielding officers could have avoided killing Parminder Singh Shergill in a fatal, late January confrontation.
We know there is an undercurrent of ethnic unrest in this case, as the victim was part of a Sikh community that wants answers from authorities
We know the lawyer for the Shergill family, Mark Merin of Sacramento, has raised the specter of police misconduct in the Jan. 25 killing of the 43-year-old man, who is described by his family as gentle and law abiding.
A relative also described Shergill “as paranoid schizophrenic” and “going crazy” in a 911 call on the day of his death. He was said to be haunted by his Army tour of the Gulf War.
But Merin, who is pressing a civil rights suit in the case, dropped a bomb by suggesting that a key piece of evidence – a tactical knife that police say Shergill brandished when he was shot – could have been planted by police.
“It appears to be a ‘throw down,’ which occurs when officers need justification for deadly force,” Merin said in The Bee. “The officers take a knife out and simply throw it down.”
Considering the horrible outcome, Lodi police can’t be surprised by the scrutiny of a shooting that killed a veteran of an American foreign war. The use of deadly force and whether the officers were properly trained should be examined.
But in an honest process, a topic charged with political correctness would be examined as well – the mental illness of the victim.
Based on Shergill’s history, officers may have had a legitimate reason to fear for their lives when they confronted him more than three months ago. Lodi police, Stockton police and the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office had documented encounters with Shergill dating back to 1988.
As reported by The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert, there were 10 calls to Lodi police between 2009 and 2014 from the house where Shergill lived. According to authorities, Shergill was arrested in 2006 by San Joaquin County sheriff’s deputies for making criminal threats, assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a loaded concealed firearm. Those cases were later dismissed.
Numerous times Shergill’s family called police to report that he was out of control. Twice, according to Lodi police, Shergill’s mother and sister-in-law declined to press charges against him after Shergill allegedly assaulted them.
Does Shergill’s tragic history mean he deserved to die? Of course not. But that history needs to be examined as closely as the police will be when the San Joaquin County district attorney weighs whether Shergill’s shooting was justified.
No one will win in the end, but judging the facts without treating Shergill’s mental state as a sacred cow is a standard that should apply to all.