Injured by Police During Search for Friend, Man Granted $3.9m Settlement, Attorneys Declare

Injured by Police During Search for Friend, Man Granted $3.9m Settlement, Attorneys Declare

A man who is disabled because of a traumatic brain injury was badly beaten by two California police officers. This caused a brain hemorrhage that led to several strokes, according to a federal case that was just settled.

A case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California says that Sorrell Shiflett was with his cousin as they walked around San Leandro looking for a friend’s house in October 2019. He was then severely beaten.

According to the complaint, Ismael Navarro and Anthony Pantoja of the San Leandro Police Department stopped Shiflett and his cousin while they were reacting to a report of “suspicious” men walking around. Shiflett was dressed as the anime character Naruto.

Shiflett, a 37-year-old man from Alameda County, has “major cognitive difficulties, slowed speech, and a child-like state of mind” because he was robbed in 2008. This was stated in a news statement from his lawyers on April 29.

The suit says that Navarro and Pantoja knew about Shiflett’s disability while questioning him. It also says that Shiflett then got scared and began running away to get his father. The police report says he was trying “to run home so that (his) father could explain his condition to them.” The police chased Shiflett, but the suit says he stopped running and turned around to head back toward them.

The suit says that when he did this, the police “violently confronted him” with their batons and hit him in the head several times with them. People say that Navarro deleted the video from his body camera and Pantoja didn’t turn on his camera until after the beating.

The lawyer Adanté Pointer of Pointer & Buelna, Lawyers For The People, said in the release, “They then cruelly dumped him at a nearby hospital.” Shiflett was “never charged with any crimes,” the suit says. The news release says that San Leandro has agreed to pay Shiflett $3.9 million to settle his case. In the lawsuit, Shiflett named the city and officers Navarro and Pantoja as defendants.

According to an email from Paul Sanftner, the public information officer for San Leandro, the case was “resolved in the mutual interest of the parties” and “there was no admission of liability or wrongdoing by the City or any San Leandro police officers.”

He told Pantoja and Navarro that Shiflett was wearing a “Karate Gi and a black belt” when they met him on Oct. 6, 2019, and that “he was on active probation.”

Sanftner says Shiflett told the police “that he was carrying a knife and he agreed to a search” before running away. His “caught up” with Pantoja and Navarro led to him being accused of taking “a fighting stance,” the statement said.

An officer hit Mr. Shiflett once in the hand with his club, and another officer used his taser. The taser worked, and Mr. Shiflett hit his head as he fell to the ground. During the arrest, Mr. Shiflett was searched and found to have two throwing knives and a big bag full of crystal methamphetamine. He said in his statement that paramedics were called right away to the scene.

“It was later found that Mr. Shiflett made a brain injury worse when he hit his head on the ground after being tased,” Sanftner said. Shiflett’s lawyers say that the charges against him were dropped a few weeks after the event. In a statement to McClatchy News, San Leandro Interim Police Chief Angela Averiett said that the incident led to changes in the department’s body-worn camera policy in 2022, which now lets the department keep footage for seven years.

“This new policy makes sure that interactions with community members will be kept for longer so that they can be looked at in the future for possible criminal, administrative, or civil cases,” Averiett said.

The San Leandro Police Department says that Navarro is still working there. Pantoja doesn’t do it anymore. In the release, lawyer Ty Clarke of Pointer & Buelna, who also fought the case, said, “This was a horrible experience for Sorrell.”

“On Pantoja’s bodycam, he can be heard pleading with the officers that he is disabled, that they hurt him, and that he did not do anything to deserve such a cruel and unlawful beating,” Clarke said. It takes about 25 miles to drive east from San Francisco to get to San Leandro.

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