Pubdate: Sun, 06 Oct 2013
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2013 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Bob Egelko
Page: C3
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit over a Pittsburg 
police detective's fatal shooting of a man during a drug raid, saying 
there was evidence that the officer opened fire on the unarmed man 
without warning.

Timothy Mitchell Jr., 29, was killed in his Antioch apartment during 
a 7 a.m. raid by a Contra Costa County narcotics squad in March 2011. 
Officers, who had a search warrant, said they had to force open a 
security door after a male voice shouted from inside that they were 
at the wrong home. Les Galer, a Pittsburg police officer, said he 
entered with his gun drawn and shot Mitchell after the man approached 
and grabbed his arm.

But U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of San Francisco said lawyers 
for Mitchell's parents had presented expert testimony that the door 
frame and dead-bolt lock were undamaged, supporting their claim that 
Mitchell had complied with the officers' orders and opened the door himself.

She also cited Galer's testimony that he did not recall saying 
anything to Mitchell upon entering the apartment, although it was his 
usual practice to warn a suspect in those circumstances to "show his 
hands and hit the ground."

Federal courts have upheld officers' use of deadly force to prevent a 
suspect from escaping but have ruled that they must first give a 
warning "when feasible," Illston said in a ruling issued Tuesday.

The judge said Galer might have been justified in entering the 
apartment with his gun drawn, because Mitchell, a suspected marijuana 
dealer, had not come to the door at once, and officers had learned 
there was a shotgun in the apartment. But she said a jury could 
nevertheless find that the shooting was unjustified because Galer 
failed to issue a legally required warning.

The judge allowed the suit to go forward against Galer and the other 
four officers who took part in the raid. They included Norman 
Wielsch, commander of the county's narcotics enforcement team, and 
Louis Lombardi, a San Ramon police officer. Wielsch has since been 
convicted of drug dealing, stealing evidence and other crimes and is 
serving a 14-year prison sentence, and Lombardi has been sentenced to 
three years on related charges.

Peter Edrington, a lawyer for the officers, said they were 
disappointed by the ruling and were considering an appeal.
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