Judge denies claim of juror bias in request for new trial in police shooting case

A federal judge has denied the City of Fresno’s request for a new trial in the excessive force case of a former police officer who shot and killed 45-year-old Casimero “Shane” Casillas.

City officials were hoping to reverse a $4.7 million jury verdict against the city and former Fresno police officer Trevor Shipman.

Casillas was shot three times by 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 he rushed toward him with a 2 foot-long metal pipe.

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

It took a federal jury two days of deliberation in early March to find Shipman responsible for violating Casillas’ civil rights.

After the verdict, the city filed a motion alleging several errors, including juror misconduct, excessive damages, the failure to give proper jury instructions and Shipman’s right to qualified immunity. They wanted a new trial.

But in a decision released Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii rejected all of the city’s claims in a 50-page decision. Ishii said the city failed to prove its case and denied the request for a new trial.

City officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Among the more serious allegations leveled by the city’s lawyers was that two jurors were guilty of serious misconduct by not disclosing certain information about themselves and for allegedly being anti-cop.

One of the jurors, a former city manager of Tulare, was fired from his job over an officer-involved shooting in the city a year earlier, the city’s motion said. The motion doesn’t name him, but Joseph Carlini was fired by the city of Tulare in March 2018, the same month Tulare police shot and killed a man. The other juror knew a person who was killed by police in Tulare, the city’s motion said. And both were associates of a former mayor of Tulare (unnamed in the motion), who Fresno city’s lawyers allege was anti-police.

There was also an affidavit from a third juror who alleged that those two jurors discussed the Tulare police shooting with the jury panel during deliberations in the Casillas trial.

The city argued that because the jurors’ “alleged biases” were not disclosed during jury selection that made them unable to be fair and impartial.

Casillas’ attorneys responded with declarations from the two jurors stating they did not have a bias against police officers or Shipman and disputed the city’s characterization of them.

Ishii sided with the jurors and Casillas’ legal team. Ishii wrote that the city’s lawyers could have done a simple web search on the juror they believed was biased. They also had time before the jury was in place to raise an issue.

“However, defendants stated they were ‘fine with the 14’ jurors in the box,” Ishii wrote. “Defendants’ attempts to now impeach the jury’s adverse verdict cannot be countenanced.”

As to whether the damages awarded were excessive, Ishii also found fault with the city’s arguments. The jury awarded Casillas’ family $250,000 for his pain and suffering. The city’s motion called it excessive, given the amount of time he was alive after being shot.

Ishii said that after Casillas was shot he spent 21 minutes bleeding out on the floor, while being conscious for most of it. He also remained alive for six hours at the hospital before dying.

“This not only supports the jury’s determination that Casillas experienced pain and suffering, but also supports a finding that an award of $250,000 is not outside of the bounds of reason,” Ishii wrote.

Robert Rodriguez: (559) 441-6327, @fresnobeebob

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A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.