Federal lawsuit claims Yakima police officer unjustified in fatal shooting

  • Nov 22, 2016

YAKIMA, Wash. —  The sister of a man fatally shot by a Yakima police officer in 2014 has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officer, police Chief Dominic Rizzi and the city.

The long-expected lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Yakima on behalf of the estate of Rocendo Arias.

Assistant Yakima city attorney Helen Harvey said she had not received notice of the lawsuit, but she said the city would have no comment on pending litigation.

Arias, 23, was fatally shot by a police officer, Casey Gillette, in January 2014 at a Yakima car wash, where Arias’ car had been parked late at night.

The lawsuit alleges that Gillette was unjustified in shooting Arias, who was described as being asleep in his car.

Yakima police said their investigation found Arias had lunged at Gillette while pointing what turned out to be an Airsoft pellet gun directly at him. Gillette told investigators he did not realize it was an Airsoft gun until after the shooting.

Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty, who left office in 2014, ruled the shooting was justified.

The lawsuit says Gillette failed to follow department policy by not tapping on the car’s window or otherwise trying to wake Arias. Instead, Gillette went around to the passenger side and opened that door, which the lawsuit characterizes as an unconstitutional entry into the vehicle.

Gillette told investigators he approached the car because he thought the driver might be impaired.

Rod Light, a retired Yakima police captain who oversaw the department’s use-of-force review of the Arias shooting, consulted on the case for the plaintiff’s attorneys after leaving the agency.

A police department memo indicates Light found no issues with the shooting during its investigation, but he later told attorneys for the Arias estate the evidence at the scene contradicted Gillette’s report that Arias had lunged at him.

An initial legal claim in the case sought $5 million from the city. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, as well as changes in how Yakima police officers use and report force against suspects.





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