Fresno police used justifiable deadly force in the 2014 shooting of a woman armed with kitchen knives near Fresno State, a federal jury ruled Monday.
Veronica Lynn Canter, 48, was fatally shot by Fresno police on March 7, 2014 after she locked her ex-boyfriend, Dag Lindbeck, out of his apartment near Bulldog Stadium.
The high-profile, civil-rights trial explored the circumstances of Canter’s deadly encounter with Officers Douglas Cox and Edward Louchren. Magistrate Judge Erica P. Grosjean presided over the case in U.S. District Court.
“From the onset, we knew that the officers had acted appropriately in the situation.” said Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer. “We knew it was a tragic death – any loss of life is tragic – but we also knew the officers acted reasonable, and they did what they felt they needed to do at that given time.”
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One of the attorneys for Canter’s family, Arturo González, said he was disappointed with the outcome.
“Our clients feel strongly that kicking in doors is not the appropriate way to deal with people who are mentally ill,” Gonzalez said in a statement. He said his clients are considering their options, including a potential appeal.
Shortly before 4 p.m. the day of the shooting, Lindbeck and the apartment manager called 911 to report that Canter was acting erratically. Dispatch learned that Canter was acting strangely, talking to herself and dancing outside the apartment before police arrived. Roughly three weeks prior to Canter’s death, she was was arrested by a Fresno police officer for lying nearly naked on a busy street.
Officer Cox arrived first and called for back up. Louchren arrived and with the apartment manager’s permission, the officers kicked in the door. Canter was dead within five minutes of Louchren’s arrival.
Canter’s family was represented by San Francisco attorneys Wesley Overson, Robert Esposito, Sabrina Larson and González. Santa Ana attorney and former police officer Bruce Praet represented the Fresno Police Department.
Lawyers for Canter’s family contended Canter was mentally ill and that the two officers didn’t follow proper procedures when they kicked open the door, used a stun gun on her and then fatally shot her. The family was seeking unspecified damages from the city of Fresno and the two officers for violation of Canter’s civil rights to be free of excessive force. They also sued for wrongful death, contending the officers were negligent.
A key issue in the trial was whether the two officers knew Canter was mentally ill. The officers testified that they didn’t suspect Canter to have mental problems. Louchren testified on June 15 that he thought Canter was just throwing a temper tantrum because her ex-boyfriend had kicked her out of his apartment.
“The jury today not only confirmed that decision that the officers made that day back in 2014 but they also came back unanimously in that the officers acted reasonable, there was no excessive force and that there was no negligence involved on the part of the officers,” Dyer said.
Before they entered the apartment, Louchren said, he used a calm voice to warn Canter that he was kicking in the door and was going to cite her for trespassing. He then went in first, followed by Cox. At that moment, Canter didn’t have any knives or weapons, he testified.
Once Canter started coming toward him, Louchren testified, he told Cox to use a stun gun on her. Canter’s eyes got big when she got stunned, Louchren said, and then she cursed them, saying: “Is that all you’ve got?”
Cox and Louchren testified that Louchren had to shoot Canter because she charged at them with two knives. When the first two shots didn’t stop her, Louchren testified, he fired three more rounds at her.
But apartment manager Veronica Placencia, and one of her tenants, Angelique Conston, who lived in the unit above Lindbeck’s, testified the gunshots came in rapid succession, without any pause.
Praet said a key part of the case was that officers didn’t have enough information to know that Canter was mentally ill.
“In this case, the unique facts were that the officers didn’t have anything at the scene that told them that (Canter) was absolutely mentally ill,” Praet said. “This was a disturbance between a boyfriend and girlfriend and whether she was mentally ill was not before the officers at the time.”
During the trial, Gonzalez told the jury that any reasonable officer would know Canter was mentally ill and distraught by her actions.
Attorneys completed closing arguments on Friday and jurors deliberated for two hours. Deliberation resumed Monday and the jury reached a verdict in favor of the police department around 11:20 a.m.