Family of teen fatally shot by Pleasanton PD officer sues city, department

Civil complaint demands jury trial to determine punitive damages after officer cleared of criminal charges

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.

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13 people like this
Posted by Juli-Andra
a resident of San Ramon
on Apr 6, 2016 at 8:07 am

To the Deming family - I am very sorry for the loss of your son. The Pleasanton PD is corrupt and I hope it comes to light soon. It is maddening that cops can get a way with murder (among other things) and it is insane that they can use a defense of fearing for their life when they have a bunch of armed buddies right at their side - meanwhile the person they kill was truly the one in fear for their life. Based on this story, you have at least 5 armed bullies against 1 unarmed teenage boy. That is murder. The cop could have easily shot a leg, or used a taser, or so many other things - but a shot to the face, head - leaving no living witness and of course no body cam so it is their word against a dead boys. Sociopaths. And the judge who let them get a way with it should be held accountable along with anyone else who advocates for use of this kind of "law enforcement".

9 people like this
Posted by sweetie
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2016 at 10:25 am

10 "trained"police officers armed with beanbags, shotguns, taser, weapons etc. against one unarmed slender "untrained" teen and they couldn't control this situation. God help us. Read the autopsy and DA report, they are sickening.

6 people like this
Posted by Danville
a resident of Danville
on Apr 7, 2016 at 4:18 pm

This "wonderful" "victim" broke into a car dealership at night, and disobeyed multiple requests from the police to surrender, and after trying non-lethal methods to stop him, including a police dog, the officer in self defense shot the "victim" who was attacking him. This is a text book justifiable shooting, and thank you to the DA for not giving into the usual anti-police ramblings from liberal special interest groups and an ambulance chasing lawyer from LA, in concluding it was a justifiable shooting. To make matters worse, this ambulance chasing lawyer from LA(whose great legal skills resulting in his famous actress client getting convicted of shoplifting) attacks the police officer for serving OUR country in Iraq and alleged he was "unstable". The only thing unstable is why any brave, patriotic person would want to be a police officer in the liberal bay area that treats brave men and women of law enforcement as criminals and makes criminals seem like alter boys.

I hope that the brave police officers sued in this case file a malicious prosecution lawsuit against the ambulance chasing lawyer from LA after they beat this frivolous lawsuit, and also go after them for all of their costs through trial which will be huge.

God bless the brave police officers who have to risk their lives everyday to protect us, only to deal with frivolous lawsuits like this from LA ambulance chasers.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident3
a resident of San Ramon
on Apr 8, 2016 at 7:02 am

DANVILLE is spot on, well said. It makes me sick to read the cop hating posts. I am so tired of liberal thinking. Don't break the law and don't get shot. One more thug off the street. Juli and Sweetie, sorry, your thug lost the fight. Great job PD!

6 people like this
Posted by Danville 2
a resident of Danville
on Apr 8, 2016 at 8:25 am

Dear Danville: I couldn't have said it better myself!

God bless all involved, and may all of the families live in peace after this is over.

6 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Danville
on Apr 8, 2016 at 10:45 am

Juli-Andra: what proof do you have that the Pleasanton PD are corrupt? How do you know it is murder and not self-defense, were you there? You say they "could have easily shot a leg", but during a physically altercation, not so easy! Also, you say the judge should be held accountable, were you in the courtroom, did you hear all of the evidence?

Teenage boys may be the worst and most unpredictable suspects; they physically look like an adult but are very immature in there actions. And remember, police do not know the subject and what they are capable of doing; they need to protect themselves and everyone around them.

Sweetie: Unlike you, I appreciate that the PD tried many things before pulling a gun.

Danville: perfectly said!

Resident3 and Danville 2: agreed!

One more thing, I have teenage boys. Every time I see a story like this, I tell them no one should ever run from the police! We live in a crazy world and police see things every day that may have them view situations differently. If you stop, and obey the police, you will be alive!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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