Fresno was ordered to pay out millions in fatal police shooting. The city wants a new trial

Mayor’s proposed Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board presented to Fresno City Council

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand presents his plan for the Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board to the council, with input from the public.
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Fresno Mayor Lee Brand presents his plan for the Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board to the council, with input from the public.

The city of Fresno wants a second trial in the excessive force case of Casimero “Shane” Casillas, who was shot to death by a Fresno police officer in 2015.

An attorney for Casillas’ family said the motion was a last-ditch effort by the city to avoid paying out nearly $5 million in damages that a federal jury ordered the city to pay.

“This is a Hail Mary by the city of Fresno and their attorney to grasp at something to have this verdict overturned or to have a new trial,” said Bill Schmidt, one of the attorneys for Casillas’ family.

Casimero Casillas
The family of Casimero “Shane” Casillas, 45, who was fatally shot by a Fresno police officer in September, has filed a federal civil rights wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Fresno and its police department.

Casillas was shot three times by Fresno police Officer Trevor Shipman in the early-evening hours of Sept. 7, 2015, after what began as a traffic stop escalated into a confrontation between Shipman and Casillas at an east central Fresno home. Shipman testified he fired his weapon at Casillas after the 45-year-old rushed toward the officer with a 2 foot-long metal pipe.

The city also said Casillas, on the night in question, was drunk, under the influence of methamphetamine and feared going back into custody. Casillas had numerous prior DUI convictions, city attorneys said.

But a federal jury earlier this month sided against the now former Fresno police officer. Jurors determined Shipman violated Casillas’ civil rights and ordered the city to pay $4.75 million in damages.

Shipman is now employed as a deputy in the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

Last week, the Fresno City Council gave the city attorney’s office the green light to file post-trial motions and appeal the verdict, “if necessary.” The move was expected from city officials, including police Chief Jerry Dyer who signaled his intentions immediately after the verdict was handed down. Dyer described the jury’s ruling as “surprising” and “extremely disappointing.”

The city’s motion alleges juror misconduct, an inconsistent special verdict, an improper special verdict form, the failure to give proper jury instructions and Shipman’s right to qualified immunity.

Schmidt said none of the city’s claims are based in fact and called them “a stretch.”

“They stand behind and always believe that their officers acted within the law,” Schmidt said. “In this case, a federal jury found that no, the story that the police officer, the defendant Shipman and the city of Fresno was putting forth was not the truth.”

The city declined to comment for this story, citing a policy not to discuss pending litigation.

The new trial motion is scheduled to be heard on May 26 in U.S. District Court in Fresno.

shipman file.JPG
In January 2007 Fresno police officer Trevor Shipman, center, was one of two officers (along with Daniel Messick, left) honored by the city at a ceremony at City Hall. Chief Jerry Dyer, right, chats with the officers, who were ambushed by a gunman while responding to a call in October 2006. Fresno Bee file

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.