Federal Jury Sends Mixed Signals in Awarding $1M to Family of Police Shooting Victim

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.”


Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. It would really be a hoot if you guys could play a link of the bodycam showing poor Jacobs demeanor prior to the shooting. He was cocky to the bitter end. This guy is exactly where he belongs. No more car jackings, armed robberies or brandishing guns at people.

  2. But, but his mom says he was a good boy, and his wife says he was never a threat (at least at that particular second in time).

    Don’t Do the Crime if You Cannot Do the Time.

    Pictures don’t lie…
    Not sure if there is a chance to appeal the ridiculous payout, or if it worth legal fees, but these verdicts are aiding and abetting more crime in the community.

    (NBCBay Area) –
    Jacob “Dominguez was a known norteno Gang Member linked to a crime spree earlier this month, including a drive-by shooting that injured one person and armed robbery at an Arco gas station.
    Police also said Dominguez had a violent past, including a conviction for first-degree robbery.”

    “The deadly shooting incident occured shortly after undercover officers in unmarked cars pulled over Jacob Dominguez in East San Jose.
    Officers told Dominguez, who was wanted for Armed Robbery and had Evaded Police hours earlier, to put his hands up and stay that way”

    “Dominguez disobeyed those orders and put his hands down out of sight and the officer believed he was reaching for a weapon, so he fired at least one time,”

  3. Nobody has the right to shoot someone that is unarmed and not a threat.The officer should have told him to step out of the car with his hands up but didn’t and, even if he was a robbery suspect; you still can’t just shoot someone because you assumed he had a gun, which he did not.The jury just gave the cop the benefit of the doubt because they are afraid of the cops retaliateing ,it seems but, the cop was wrong and they know it and, the jury was wrong.The cop is clearly looking for a reason to justify shooting the guy and will lie about what the guy did because he is not there to say what really happened.I would not have believed that cop about where his hands were at when he got shot.Its just an excuse to justify shooting him.The poor guy lost his life because the cop assumed he was armed but cop’s are always going to say that to justify the shooting.Cops don’t have the right to shoot anyone just because they thought he had a gun to which he did not therefore the cop should have been held accountable because you can’t go around killing people based on assumptions.It appears that the jury is afraid of holding cop’s accountable.I would not trust anything that cop said about why he shot him and where the guys hand’s were at the time because the cop was wrong already about him having a gun so how can you believe anything that cop says after the fact because that cop is clearly looking for ways to justify shooting him and will say anything to justify it.I would not have believed that cop and I would have held him accountable and the guys family should have won the law suit.Why should the family have to pay for burying him after the cop killed him it’s like a slap in the face after the fact.My God what gives here! Do your job and duty jury!!!

  4. This is very important: were the victims of the robbery or the auto thefts ever compensated for their losses? If Jacob’s family can turn a dollar from his death, then they should be held liable for all damages that resulted from his “alleged” crimes. If the losses had to be covered by insurance, it means that all of us pay. No sympathy for this loser or his relatives.

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