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Disabled man beaten by cops while looking for friend’s home is owed $3.9M, lawyers say

In World
May 01, 2024

A man who is disabled from a traumatic brain injury was badly beaten by two California police officers, leading to a brain hemorrhage that caused him to have several strokes, according to a newly settled federal lawsuit.

Sorrell Shiflett was walking around San Leandro looking for a friend’s home with his cousin before he was violently beaten in October 2019, the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California says.

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

Shiflett, a 37-year-old resident of Alameda County, has “major cognitive difficulties, slowed speech, and a child-like state of mind” after he was robbed in 2008, according to an April 29 news release issued by his legal representation.

Navarro and Pantoja were aware of Shiflett’s disability as they questioned him, according to the suit, which says Shiflett then became afraid and started to run away to get his father. He was trying “to run home so that (his) father could explain his condition to the officers,” the complaint says.

The officers chased after Shiflett, who then stopped running and headed back toward them, according to the suit.

As he did, the officers “violently confronted him” with their batons, which they used to hit him in the head, and repeatedly tasered him, the suit says. Navarro is accused of destroying his body camera footage, while Pantoja is accused of not turning his camera on until after the beating.

“They then callously dumped him at a nearby hospital,” attorney Adanté Pointer, of Pointer & Buelna, Lawyers For The People law firm, said in the release.

Sorrell Shiflett Robert Frank

Sorrell Shiflett Robert Frank

Shiflett was “never charged with any crimes,” according to the suit.

Now, San Leandro has agreed to pay Shiflett $3.9 million to settle his lawsuit that named the city and officers Navarro and Pantoja as defendants, according to the news release.

San Leandro public information officer Paul Sanftner confirmed to McClatchy News in an email that the lawsuit 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.”

Sanftner said that when Pantoja and Navarro encountered Shiflett on Oct. 6, 2019, he was wearing a “Karate Gi and a black belt” and they learned “he was on active probation.”

According to Sanftner, Shiflett told the officers “that he was carrying a knife, and he consented to a search” before fleeing.

When Pantoja and Navarro “caught up” to him, he’s accused of taking “a fighting stance,” the statement said.

“Officer Pantoja hit Mr. Shiflett one time in the hand with his baton, and Officer Navarro deployed his taser. The taser was effective, and Mr. Shiflett fell to the ground and hit his head. A search incident to arrest revealed two throwing knives and a large bag a crystal methamphetamine in Mr. Shiflett’s possession. Paramedics were immediately called to the scene,” Sanftner’s statement said.

“It was later determined that Mr. Shiflett aggravated a pre-existing brain injury when his head hit on the ground after being tased,” Sanftner added.

According to Shiflett’s attorneys, charges filed against him were dropped a few weeks after the incident.

San Leandro Interim Police Chief Angela Averiett said in a statement to McClatchy News that the department’s body-worn camera policy was updated in 2022 as a result of the encounter and allows the department to keep footage for seven years.

“This updated policy ensures a longer retention of interactions with community members to allow for the future review of potential criminal, administrative, or civil cases,” Averiett said.

Navarro still works for the San Leandro Police Department, according to Sanftner. Pantoja no longer does.

“This was a horrifying experience for Sorrell,” said attorney Ty Clarke of Pointer & Buelna, who also represented the case, in the release.

“He can be heard on Pantoja’s bodycam crying and screaming while pleading with the officers that he is disabled, that the officers hurt him, and that he did not do anything to warrant such a cruel and unlawful beating,” Clarke said.

San Leandro is about a 25-mile drive east from San Francisco.

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