The parents of a man who died after being shot with a stun gun by a Woodland police officer in February have filed damage claims against the city of Woodland and Yolo County, arguing city police officers and county sheriff’s deputies used unreasonable force and caused his death.
Michael Anthony Barrera, 30, “was experiencing a mental health emergency at the time and not presenting a credible threat to the officers or anyone else,” Sacramento lawyer Stewart Katz wrote in the damage claims, which often precede a lawsuit.
The Yolo County coroner reported that Barrera had a high level of methamphetamine in his system and suffered “sudden death with methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement.” (The coroner is part of the Sheriff’s Office.)
According to authorities, callers to 911 reported Barrera exposing himself and holding a chef’s knife and scissors in a Woodland apartment complex around noon on Feb. 8.
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Woodland officers said they contacted Barrera a few blocks away and attempted to negotiate with him. He ignored their commands and allegedly charged at them with a golf club, injuring one officer, according to a department news release.
Barrera was struck with a Taser by Officer Parveen Lal, Woodland police wrote in a response to a Public Records Act request by The Sacramento Bee. Lal and seven other officers were placed on administrative lead following the incident but have since returned to duty, the department said.
After being hit with the stun gun, Barrera was handcuffed and became unresponsive, authorities said. The coroner’s report said Barrera was pronounced dead at Woodland Memorial Hospital at 1:41 p.m.
“It’s very unclear to me what the police actually did,” Katz said. “It was unclear to me why they had to use that level of force against him.”
Katz said the family believes Yolo County sheriff’s deputies were present, along with Woodland officers, during the fatal incident.
Sgt. Matthew Davis, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said the agency has refuted the accusation multiple times. He declined to comment on the claim for damages filed by Katz and said an investigation into the Feb. 8 incident was underway.
Woodland City Manager Paul Navazio said he didn’t want to comment on the claim against the city.
According to the coroner’s report, two needle-sized punctures were found on Barrera’s body, one on his left hip and another between his ribs and hip. The wounds were consistent with Taser deployment, it said. Scattered scrapes and bruises covered the lower half of his body but no significant injuries were detected, it said.
The coroner’s report included a summary of Barrera’s medical history that said he went to Woodland Memorial Hospital multiple times in the months leading up to his death.
In his most recent visit, Barrera was taken to the hospital Jan. 10 by police and placed on a psychiatric hold after officers received a call from his mother saying he was acting delusional and saying “the house is possessed and haunted” and “police are going to kill me.” He was under the influence of methamphetamine and hadn’t slept in a week, the report said.
Barrera was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis and amphetamine-use disorder. He was discharged against medical advice seven days after he was taken to the hospital, the report says.
After his death, a toxicology report showed Barrera had a methamphetamine level of 1,800 nanograms per milliliter of blood, a level that is considered to be fatal, Chief Deputy Coroner Gina Moya said.
The report said forensic pathologist Brian Nagao concluded that it was possible Barrera could have died from the high level of methamphetamine in his blood “without getting into an altercation with law enforcement.”
Nagao said he couldn’t determine if Barrera’s physical contact with police caused or contributed to his death, but he also couldn’t rule out restraint by officers as a contributing factor or cause, the coroner’s report says.