The city of Lodi has agreed to pay $2.65 million to the family of a mentally ill Gulf War veteran who police shot and killed in 2014.
The agreement settles a federal civil rights lawsuit the family filed after officers fatally shot Parminder Singh Shergill as he walked through his neighborhood. Police said Shergill charged at them with a knife, but witnesses disputed that account.
Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin, who represented the family in the lawsuit, said the settlement allows Lodi to avoid a jury trial that might have resulted in an even bigger award to Shergill's family.
"In the past, jurors have tended to give officers the benefit of the doubt in these cases," Merin said. "But that edge is evaporating."
Two recent California cases are examples of that trend, he said. Last year, a federal jury awarded $6.5 million to the family of Johnathan Rose, a man with schizophrenia who was shot and killed in his home by a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy who had been called by Rose’s parents to help their agitated son. In March, a jury in San Bernardino awarded $33.5 million in damages to the family of Nathaneal Pickett, who deputies shot and killed after accusing him of trespassing.
Lodi agreed to settle with Shergill's family after U.S. District Court Judge Troy Nunley denied the city's efforts to dismiss the case.
The city of Lodi issued a press release Tuesday that said the officers "acted professionally and consistent with their training" when they responded to Shergill's family's 911 call on the January day that he died. Nevertheless, "settling this case is in the best interest of Lodi and its residents," City Attorney Janice D. Magdich said in a statement.
Shergill's sister, Kulbinder Sohota, said her brother's death and subsequent legal wranglings have been difficult on the family.
"It's been almost four and a half years. We have been through hell," Sohota said.
On the morning of his death, Shergill's mother called police, telling them her son suffered from schizophrenia, was agitated and needed to be taken to a mental health clinic. Minutes later, officers spotted him at a nearby park and attempted to speak with him.
Shergill, 43, refused to do so and continued walking toward his family's home. Officers said they shot him after he pulled a folding knife from his pocket and turned toward them. He was shot 14 times.
The two officers who killed Shergill, Scott Bratton and Adam Lockie, were cleared of criminal liability by the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office.
In the federal court documents, four witnesses disputed Bratton's and Lockie's accounts of their encounter with Shergill.
One said Shergill never charged officers, and that he asked them not to shoot him. Another said "he didn't move. He was just standing there." None of the four said they saw a knife in Shergill's hand before officers fired on him, though a knife with Shergill's DNA on it was found at the scene following the shooting.
Nunley, in his order denying the city's request to dismiss the case, held that "a jury could conclude" that the officers "shot to death a man who at most committed a misdemeanor, was not fleeing, had not armed himself with a weapon, was not threatening the officers or anyone else, and asked them not to shoot him.
"Whether Parminder was charging them, brandishing a knife, and threatening to kill them when they shot him to death is a disputed question of material fact that must be resolved by a jury," Nunley said.
Based on evidence presented to the court, "it cannot be said that Parminder was an immediate threat to the safety of the Officer Defendants or others at the time he was shot."
A member of a Sikh family with established roots in Northern California, Shergill joined the Army after graduating from Lodi High School. His service took him to Germany, and then Iraq, where he was part of a unit that delivered provisions to soldiers on the front lines of the Gulf War. After he returned, family members said, his mental health seemed to slowly break down.
He subsequently was diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenic disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.