Oakland attorney John Burris is claiming that a Newark man shot and mortally wounded by a Danville police officer was killed because he was “the wrong skin color” – an accusation Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston dismissed in a statement issued Monday.
Burris, a civil rights attorney who has frequently represented the families of people killed by police, made the accusation in a claim filed on behalf of the family of Laudemar Arboleda, who was shot at least once while allegedly accelerating his car toward Danville police officer Andrew Hall during the lethal culmination of a strange chase through downtown Danville Nov. 3.
In a claim filed on behalf of Arboleda’s mother, Burris announced an intent to seek damages in excess of $25,000 from the town, a figure likely to grow if his action against the town continues.
Arboleda had not committed a crime or an infraction on the morning he was killed, Burris said, adding that a witness had come forward to contradict the Police Department’s version of the shooting.
Instead of trying to run Hall down, Burris said, Arboleda was apparently attempting to drive around a stationary police car and was not trying to hit anyone when Hall opened fire, an action Burris characterized as a reckless decision to “deprive Mr. Arboleda of his life.”
Sheriff Livingston issued a strongly worded rebuttal of Burris’ accusation on behalf of his department, which provides contracted police services to Danville.
“This is a tragic case,” he wrote in a prepared release, “yet once again John Burris is reaching for his well-worn race card. This is not about race. This is about a dangerous and reckless person trying to run down and murder a police officer. Once all investigations are completed, we look forward to sharing the full details with the public.”
Events which ended with the taking of Laudemar Arboleda’s life began to steamroll at about 11 a.m. the morning of the shooting, local residents calling police to report a man either lost or behaving strangely, walking up to homes with bags of some sort in his hands.
Officers who first approached Arboleda’s silver Honda said he sped away in an effort to evade them, pulling over twice as they closed in as though to comply, then speeding away again. At one point, as reported by this site at the time, officers reportedly saw bags of an unknown “white powder” jettisoned from the Honda. Samples of the substance were reportedly taken into evidence at the time but it is not known if the contents have been identified.
It was at Front Street and Diablo Road, police said, that Arboleda allegedly veered toward officers approaching his car on foot and Hall opened fire in an effort to disable to driver out of a fear of being struck down.
Several rounds impacted on the Honda’s windshield and Arboleda, mortally wounded, was unresponsive behind the wheel of the Honda when the car struck a Jeep being driven in the opposite direction and came to rest. Officers rendered life-saving measures to the wounded man at the scene and he was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The shooting has focused attention on accepted police responses for officers facing potential injury from a subject in a moving car. Many cities forbid their officers from opening fire on cars in such a scenario.
Burris said the practice was contrary to guidelines established by the Department of Justice. His claim alleges wrongful death, negligence and negligent hiring and training. It seeks an unspecified amount of money for general damages, including pain, suffering and emotional distress, as well as medical and related expenses for Arboleda’s family.
Town spokesman Geoff Gillette said that to the best of his recollection the last officer involved shooting incident to take place in Danville was on Aug. 27, 2001.