The parents of a 19-year-old man fatally shot by a Pleasanton police officer downtown last summer are suing the police department and the city for wrongful death, claiming action should have been taken to prevent the teen's death during the violent encounter with police.
In a civil complaint filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Monday, the family of John Deming Jr. requested a jury trial to determine financial damages related to the San Jose man's death.
Deming was killed during the early-morning hours of July 5 after police found him inside a Pleasanton car dealership while responding to a burglary report. The man was found unarmed but jumping on cars and acting erratically to the point that some officers questioned if he was in the middle of a mental-health crisis, according to investigators.
He was later shot by Officer Daniel Kunkel during an altercation outside the downtown dealership. County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against Kunkel, determining the officer acted in lawful self-defense.
The Deming family's 17-page complaint, which alleges wrongful death and civil rights violations, names the city of Pleasanton, the Pleasanton Police Department, Kunkel and five other police officers as defendants. The suit does not specify requested financial damages, but it asks that a jury determine that amount.
Pleasanton police chief Dave Spiller and interim city attorney Julie Harryman each said Tuesday they could not comment on the matter because of pending litigation.
The lawsuit contends use of deadly force was not necessary since Deming was not a violent person, some officers on scene thought he might be experiencing a mental-health crisis, and he did not have any drugs in his system.
"The facts will show that Officer Kunkel was mentally unstable, panicked when he saw John Jr. fleeing from the K9 that was chasing him, and unreasonably shot and killed John Jr. without any justification or privilege," according to the complaint, filed on behalf of Deming's parents, John Deming Sr. and Linda Stasi.
The Deming family is represented by the Los Angeles-based law firm Geragos & Geragos, best known for representing celebrities such as Chris Brown and Michael Jackson.
The attorneys said that before the shooting, Deming was on his way from his mother's home in San Jose to his father's home in Oakdale, where he planned to work that summer but found himself overcome by "emotional issues as he was set to go off into the workforce."
Around 2 a.m. July 5, Pleasanton police responded to a burglary alarm at Specialty Sales Classics car dealership on First Street and saw Deming inside. After attempts to bring Deming in peacefully, police used Tasers, bean bag rounds and a police dog to stop him, according to police accounts and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office investigation.
Deming then ran out through a broken back window and encountered Kunkel outside, who ordered the 19-year-old to stop, according to police. After a chase and an attempt to shock Deming with a Taser, Deming allegedly charged at Kunkel.
Kunkel tried to stun Deming with a Taser to the forehead, but Deming kept punching Kunkel, the officer told investigators. Kunkel then fired three shots toward Deming when he felt himself losing consciousness, police stated.
Two of the bullets hit Deming one in the face, one in the abdomen. The teen was taken to Eden Medical Center, where he died of his injuries.
The DA's Office investigated the fatal shooting during the following seven months and decided in February that no criminal charges would be filed against Kunkel -- who returned to work on "modified duty" assigned to investigations during the first week of March, according to Spiller.
The investigation concluded Kunkel believed lethal force was necessary because he felt his life would be in danger when he passed out, according to deputy district attorney Kevin Wong's final report.
In an interview with a DA's investigator, Kunkel stated he fired his gun at Deming when he was in fear of his life. The officer said at the point that he pulled the trigger, Deming was on top of him, punching him to the point of unconsciousness, which would result in the officer losing control of his firearm, according to the DA's Office report.
Deming's parents disagreed with the DA's Office findings and followed through with their objections by filing the lawsuit Monday.
The civil complaint described Deming as a "loving teenager, and his loss has and will continue to bring great and severe damages to his parents." It also points out that an Alameda County Coroner's Bureau autopsy and a third-party autopsy paid for by the Deming family both concluded there was no evidence of drugs or alcohol in the teen's system.
The suit alleges Kunkel was dealing with "emotional injuries" after serving in the military in Iraq and that Kunkel had sued his previous employer, the Antioch Police Department, for "emotional distress."
The complaint also notes the lack of evidence in either autopsy for skin "tattooing" or the presence of gunpowder residue, which would be expected in a contact or close-range shot. Deming family lawyers further question why Kunkel didn't have his department-issued body camera on, which could have clarified his story.
The DA's investigation determined Kunkel didn't turn the camera on because he felt it was unreliable and was too focused on responding to the burglary.
"Officer Kunkel's convenient and suspicious failure to activate his bodycam, as required by Department protocol, is all the more alarming given that none of the forensic and scientific evidence of the murder of John Jr. match with Officer Kunkel's version of events," the complaint reads.
The Deming family's lawyers are also seeking compensation following police action at Stasi's home after the shooting, an incident in which she was allegedly handcuffed for two hours and held at gunpoint before being told her son was dead.
In addition to Kunkel, the lawsuit also lists Pleasanton police Sgt. Eric Gora and officers Mark Sheldon, Tyler Paulsen and Bradley Palmquist as defendants. It also names an "Officer Bennett" without providing a first name, as well as leaves open the possibility of naming up to 50 additional defendants pending subsequent investigation.
Ben Mieselas of Geragos & Geragos said the timeline for the first court hearing in the civil case is expected to be between three and four months.