Modesto is facing an excessive force claim from a drug sting in which two of its police officers fired upon a car, killing the driver and injuring the passenger.
Attorney Amber Lunsford filed the claim in December on behalf of Juan Sostenes Bulgara, who was the passenger in the car.
Officers assigned to the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency had arranged to buy methamphetamine from unknown people, according to court records filed by a Turlock police detective. The drug buy was set up for the evening of June 7 in the parking lot of the Turlock Poker Room on West Main Street in Turlock.
The detective wrote that an undercover StanDEA officer looked inside the car and saw what appeared to be a large amount of methamphetamine. The detective wrote that StanDEA later determined there were about 15 pounds of methamphetamine in the car, a 2005 Nissan sedan.
The officer walked away and gave the signal for Modesto police officers to move in and arrest the two suspects, according to the court records. The officers were helping StanDEA in the drug sting. One Modesto officer drove his unmarked vehicle behind the Nissan, and the other officer drove his unmarked vehicle to the front of the Nissan.
The detective wrote that the Nissan driver drove in reverse, hitting the unmarked police vehicle. The driver then drove forward, smashing into a car parked nearby. The two Modesto officers fired upon the Nissan. The driver, identified as Omar Villagomez, died. Bulgara suffered superficial gunshot and/or other wounds, according to court records.
Lunsford wrote in the claim that Villagomez and Bulgara noticed two trucks pulling up to them at a high speed after they interacted with the undercover drug officer. “Fearing that they were about to be attacked, the driver pulled his car forward and attempted to leave the parking lot,” she wrote. “Officers began firing on the car, ultimately striking and killing the driver.”
Lunsford wrote that officers continued to fire after Bulgara told them the driver was dead. She wrote that Bulgara did not try to flee or resist being taken into custody.
The detective wrote that while the officers were in unmarked vehicles, they were wearing police tactical vests with police patches.
Modesto police Chief Galen Carroll declined to comment on behalf of the city and StanDEA. The drug task force members include the Modesto and Turlock police departments, as well as the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department.
Modesto has declined to release the names of the two officers.
“Some of the individuals involved in the shooting are suspected to be connected to gangs and transnational drug operations and have been convicted of violent crimes,” the City Attorney’s Office wrote in a July letter denying The Modesto Bee’s request for the officers’ names. “The Department has information that leads them to believe that some of these individuals have the capacity to retaliate against officers.”
Bulgara, 27, initially faced drug charges in Stanislaus County from the sting. But those charges have been dismissed and he is being charged in federal court. He is being held in a pretrial facility in Kern County.
Lunsford no longer represents him, saying she cannot because of her caseload. She said she filed the claim on his behalf to preserve his right to file a lawsuit against Modesto. She said Bulgara is looking for an attorney to represent him in his civil action.
Lunsford also filed claims against Turlock and Stanislaus County out of an abundance of caution and to preserve Bulgara’s right to file lawsuits against them. Turlock officials declined to comment. County Counsel John Doering said his office is reviewing the claim, but the information it has developed shows the county had no involvement in the June 7 drug sting.