A federal jury last week found that San Jose Police Officer Michael Pina used excessive force in the fatal shooting of Jacob Dominguez, and that the city should pay his widow, Jessica Dominguez, and three children $1 million in compensatory damages.
In its Aug. 31 verdict in the civil trial, the jury did not rule on whether the widow and children were entitled to punitive damages.
Dominguez, 33, was shot by police on Sept. 15, 2017 while sitting in his car after it had been stopped by officers near Penitencia Creek Road and White Road in East San Jose. Police said at the time they believed Dominguez – a suspect in an armed robbery three days before the shooting – was reaching for a gun, but he was unarmed. Officer Michael Pina reportedly fired his police rifle through the window of the suspect’s vehicle, killing Dominquez.
The jurors in the U.S. District Court in San Jose rejected the family’s lawsuit claims that Pina violated Dominguez’s Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. The verdict also included some mixed signals about the incident.
In response to a specific question from the judge after a week-long trial, the jury ruled that Dominguez had dropped his hands and leaned forward before Pina fired his gun, a key contention of the city in justifying the shooting.
The jury also rejected providing any specific award to cover Dominguez’s loss of financial support, or for his funeral expenses, or for the loss of his “love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support and/or training and guidance.”
In a statement to San Jose Inside, the city manager’s office said “the jury’s mixed verdict reflects the complicated issues raised by the case.”
The jurors, the office said, “did not believe that the…officer shot Mr. Dominguez while he had his hands up in compliance with their commands.”
“We anticipate post-trial motion practice to ensure the outcome of this case reflects the law applicable to police use of force,” the statement said, suggesting the verdict might not stand.
The jury ruled that San Jose police actions did not violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search or seizure, or the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under the law.
The jury rejected lawsuit claims that Pina acted “with malice, oppression or reckless disregard of [Dominguez’s] constitutional rights,” or that PIna’s conduct “shocks the conscience because he acted with a purpose to harm” Dominguez “unrelated to a legitimate law enforcement objective.”
The jury also ruled that Pina did not violate California’s Bane Act, which protects Californians against interference with their state or federal rights “by threats, intimidation, or coercion.”
In the lawsuit, Jessica Dominguez said that at the time of shooting, her husband “was not under arrest and was never a lethal threat to the police officers or anyone else,” that he “never threatened the use of force on himself or another,” and “has his hands raised above the steering wheel” when he was fatally wounded byshot in the head and fatally wounded.
The lawsuit claimed that prior to the shooting, police officers acted “without probable cause, police sirens, emergency lights or identification of any kind on their vehicles,” surrounding Dominguez in his SUV “without notification, warning, identification [or] instruction.”
The actions by Pina and other officers, the lawsuit alleged, “amounted to an extreme abuse of their positions of authority, a grossly negligent performance of their duties, and/or intentional misconduct,” and represented a violation of “clearly established Constitutional rights.”