Lawsuit in BPD shooting of man with pellet gun set for trial next year

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — In August 2018, a Bakersfield police officer responding to a domestic violence call fatally shot 21-year-old Christopher Okamoto, who police said answered the door armed with a gun.

The weapon, initially believed to be a firearm, turned out to be a pellet gun.

A Bakersfield Police Department review board ruled the shooting was justified, but Okamoto’s mother filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging Officer Alejandro Patino used excessive force and her son posed no threat.

Last week, a trial was postponed to July 25, with a pretrial conference set for May 25 in Bakersfield.

The shooting

On Aug. 19, 2018, police were called around 11:30 p.m. to a domestic disturbance at a home in the 4800 block of Hahn Avenue in southwest Bakersfield.

According to police, Okamoto confronted officers with a pellet gun that had design features identical to a semi-automatic firearm. Patino fired and Okamoto was pronounced dead at the scene.

Okamoto’s girlfriend told 17 News in 2018 that she and Okamoto were having a loud argument when police arrived. Okamoto never hit her, she said.

The suit says Okamoto was shot eight times through a screen door. It says officers did not announce themselves and Patino gave no warning before firing.

According to the suit, Patino and other officers “acted unreasonably in both their pre-shooting tactical conduct and decisions, e.g., to escalate to deadly force very quickly and without warning, not to use nonlethal alternatives, not to make any verbal commands or announcements and to instead shoot an unarmed man.”

The suit says BPD officers “have a propensity for using excessive deadly force against the citizens that the officers are supposed to protect and serve,” and that the city has an unofficial policy of finding all shootings involving officers to be within policy.

Okamoto’s mother, Tametria Nash-Perry, is seeking compensatory, punitive and general damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

The BPD in August entered into a stipulated judgment with the Department of Justice following a five-year investigation into complaints of excessive force and other misconduct. The investigation found the BPD’s conduct resulted in the use of unreasonable force and unreasonable stops, searches, arrests, and seizures, among other violations.

Among changes listed in the judgment, BPD will revise use-of-force policies, hold officers accountable for omissions and inaccuracies in use-of-force statements and require supervisory investigations for all reported uses of force.

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