Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Pittsburg Police Department

Humberto Martinez (Pittsburg Police Department)

The family of a man who died from a chokehold filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the Pittsburg Police Department, exactly one year after the death occurred.

Bay Point resident Humberto Martinez, 32, died on July 26, 2016, from what is described in the complaint as police "wrongful use of recklessly provocative tactics, deadly force -- an improper carotid hold, effectively a choke hold -- and significant intermediate force, including gunpoints, control holds, TASER deployments, punches, elbow strikes, and knee strikes."

The plaintiffs, who include Martinez's mother and two children, claim the defendants' attorneys did not provide multiple record requests, including documents regarding the incident, police reports and body-camera footage.

Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Pittsburg Police Department

Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Pittsburg Police Department

"There are a couple of facts that really make this stand out," said Michael Haddad, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys. "One is the amount of trauma that they caused to Humberto's body, and the body itself is a witness."

Haddad cited a coroner's report in which Martinez had seven broken ribs on one side of his body and nine on the other.

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Haddad said he has seen the police body-camera video of the incident, which he said showed an officer use a chokehold on Martinez similar to the one that resulted in the July 2014 death of Eric Garner in New York -- a killing that set off protests across the U.S.

"It's an abuse of civil rights," Haddad said.

The Pittsburg Police Department could not be reached for comment. However, the East Bay Times reported:

“Anytime anyone loses their life it’s very tragic,” Pittsburg police Cpt. Ron Raman said when asked for comment on the suit. Raman added that the incident was investigated by the Contra Costa District Attorney, Pittsburg police and a coroner’s inquest jury -- per county protocol -- and that “there was no finding of wrongdoing with our officers.”

The East Bay Times also reported that Martinez had a criminal record, including time served in prison.

The Incident

The suit contains detailed allegations of what it says happened to Martinez. It alleges that Pittsburg police officers Ernesto Mejia, Jason Waite and Willie Glasper were patrolling in an unmarked Ford Taurus near Hillview Drive on July 26, 2016. At about 2:30 p.m., Martinez had been visiting a friend on Hillview Drive.

Martinez left the house and drove off in a tan-colored car, apparently to pick up a friend from work. Mejia, Waite and Glasper ran the license plate, upon which dispatch reported the car's registration expired, and tried to stop Martinez's car after flashing their lights and siren. The officers followed Martinez for about a minute, and he circled back to his friend's house.

Martinez exited the car and ran toward the house, while the three officers got out of their vehicle and ran after him, the suit says. Mejia pulled out his Taser and hit Martinez in the upper left buttock with one of the probes, but Martinez had ducked under the partially opened garage door, where he had stumbled and was sitting on the ground. Two other people were in the garage. Martinez rose and ran into the kitchen, where Mejia and Glasper tackled him to the ground.

The plaintiffs claim the police didn't have the search or arrest warrant or probable cause to enter the home. They also claim Martinez was not aggressive and was unarmed.

Mejia and Glasper ended up on top of Martinez, face down, with Mejia placing him in a chokehold, according to the suit. Meija then beat Martinez in the face, while Glasper hit him in the torso. Glasper also delivered knee and elbow strikes. During the altercation Mejia had his arm wrapped around Martinez's neck in a chokehold limiting his ability to breathe.

The suit says Waite entered the kitchen, followed by three more officers, Gabriel Palma, Jonathan Elmore, and Patrick Berhan, who are also defendants in the complaint. Berhan shot Martinez with his Taser in his upper left thigh. Officer Elmore punched Martinez several times and delivered two knee strikes.

Waite and Palma handcuffed Martinez, and Elmore put his knee into Martinez's back and hand on his head. Waite, Palma, Berhan and Elmore put their combined weight on Martinez's back for minutes while he lay handcuffed, according to the complaint.

Martinez had turned blue and became unresponsive. He was transferred to a hospital in Concord and pronounced dead at 4:13 p.m.