The family of Steven Juarez, who died Feb. 25 during a struggle with Gilroy police officers, has filed a claim for damages with City Hall.
The claim was filed on behalf of Juarez’ five sons—three of whom are minors—as well as his wife and mother, by San Jose attorney Alfredo Morales. The claim is likely the first step toward further litigation in Superior Court, as the family is requesting damages in “an amount that would place it within the general jurisdiction of the Superior Court” of California, the claim states.
Juarez, known to his family and friends as “Stevie,” died Feb. 25 after Gilroy Police officers attempted to arrest him on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street in Old Gilroy.
Police department spokesmen have said up to seven officers attempted various methods, including a Taser and carotid restraint hold, to detain Juarez after they responded to reports that a man on foot was causing a disturbance in the neighborhood.
Juarez allegedly ran the opposite way through residential yards and onto rooftops when he saw officers approach him that evening, and resisted arrest when the officers caught up with him, police have said. During the struggle with officers, Juarez fell into “medical distress,” police said.
Paramedics arrived and transported him to a San Jose hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Gilroy police have declined to release the officers’ body camera and patrol car camera footage from the incident. They have also declined to release the names of the officers or any other details of their response to the disturbance complaint.
The Juarez family’s claim for damages, filed Aug. 17 at City Hall, adds that officers “forced him to the ground and physically beat Mr. Juarez with their hands, fists, feet and batons.”
The claim adds the officers “unlawfully detained” Juarez just before his death Feb. 25, and “employed unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive force” on him. The officers allegedly detained Juarez with “deliberate indifference to constitutional rights,” according to the claim.
A resident of Chestnut Street is listed on the claim as a witness to Juarez’ death.
In addition to the arresting officers, the family also blames the City of Gilroy, Police Chief Scot Smithee and the Gilroy Police Department, which “negligently hired, trained and supervised its officers. …The training received effectively encouraged officers to detain and arrest persons without reasonable suspicion and employ unnecessary, unreasonable and excessive force on persons,” the claim reads.
“Mr. Juarez did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to anyone at the time he was subdued,” the claim adds.
The family is seeking wrongful death, survival and general damages for Juarez’ sons, wife and mother. The claim also seeks funeral and burial expenses, punitive damages, attorney fees and loss of financial support damages.
The claim does not offer specific evidence of the officers’ conduct or documentation of exactly how Juarez died Feb. 25. The Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office has not released its report on Juarez’ death to his family, according to Rebeca Armendariz, a cousin of Juarez and a Gilroy activist. The report, when complete and released to the public, may offer details on the cause and manner of Juarez’ death.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is leading an investigation of the Gilroy Police response to the Feb. 25 incident, in an effort to determine if the officers acted lawfully. The D.A.’s investigation depends largely on the coroner’s findings, as well as any statements and evidence—including camera footage—provided by officers and witnesses.
On Aug. 23, D.A.’s office spokeswoman Cynthia Sumida said the incident is still under investigation.
Gilroy Police have alleged that after Juarez walked or ran away from them when they responded to Chestnut Street the night of Feb. 25, he jumped over residential fences and onto rooftops in the neighborhood. At some point during the foot chase, Juarez appeared to have fallen from a roof, according to police.
Police have declined to offer more details of the incident, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.
The City of Gilroy has 45 days to respond to the Juarez claim from the date it was filed. If the city rejects the claim, the family could proceed with litigation by filing a lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
Gilroy Human Resources Director and Risk Manager LeeAnn McPhillips said the Juarez family’s claim is “under review.”