Crime

Did a fatal shooting by Fresno police violate a man’s civil rights? Testimony begins in trial

Fresno police shot and killed Casimero Casillas on Sept. 7, 2015, after he evaded a traffic stop for a seat belt violation. On Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, a judge ruled that Casillas’ family can move foward with its civil rights lawsuit that accuses the Fresno Police Department of excessive force.
Fresno police shot and killed Casimero Casillas on Sept. 7, 2015, after he evaded a traffic stop for a seat belt violation. On Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, a judge ruled that Casillas’ family can move foward with its civil rights lawsuit that accuses the Fresno Police Department of excessive force. Fresno Police Department

Three years after Casimero “Shane” Casillas was shot and killed by a veteran Fresno police officer, the slain man’s family hopes to prevail in its civil rights lawsuit against the city.

The civil trial began Monday in U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii’s courtroom. Casillas’ relatives allege Officer Trevor Shipman used excessive force, and violated Casillas’ civil rights.

The family also claims the Fresno Police Department was negligent when officers tried to arrest Casillas.

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 Wednesday that he fired his weapon at Casillas, after the 45-year-old rushed toward the officer with a 2 foot-long metal pipe.

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

Family members have disputed the officer’s version of events.

As part of the lawsuit they are seeking monetary damages against the city. Court records show that Casillas was receiving over $1 million annually as part of the Table Mountain Indian tribe’s casino profits.

The lawsuit said Casillas provided “thousands of dollars” in financial support to his wife and five children.

At issue is whether Shipman, who had been with the department 10 years, used excessive force and acted negligently when shooting Casillas.

During opening statements, attorney Dale Galipo, who represents a family member, told the eight-member jury that Shipman had other non-lethal options to stop Casillas, including a Taser.

The night of the shooting, Shipman and Casillas faced off in the den of a home belonging to Casillas’ friend in the 5900 block of East Saginaw Way. Shipman testified Tuesday he was in the den when Casillas appeared in his peripheral vision.

As he turned to face him, Shipman said he saw Casillas with the black metal pipe in his right hand. Casillas was carrying it about chest high and began approaching him, he testified.

Shipman said he told Casillas, “Stop stop, get on the ground.” But he continued coming at him.

Galipo asked Shipman if Casillas verbally threatened him, or said anything to him before Shipman fired his .40 caliber Beretta hand gun.

“Did you even tell him to stop, I will shoot?’ he asked Shipman.

Shipman replied, “No.”

Shipman said that at one point he had his hand on his Taser and may have even unclipped it from its holster, but he never drew it out.

“I momentarily thought about it but it was not a viable option,” he said.

Under questioning by attorney Bruce Praet, who represents the city, Shipman was asked what he believed Casillas was going to do with the metal pipe.

“I think he was going to come at me and hit me in the head with the pipe,” Shipman said.

Praet painted a grim picture of Casillas. He said the night of the shooting, Casillas was drunk and under the influence of methamphetamine.

“He also had eight prior DUIs,” Praet said. “He didn’t want to go back to prison.”

Shipman is now employed as a deputy with the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department.

During his tenure with Fresno police, Shipman had been honored for his bravery. In 2015, he and Officer Chris Ramos were recognized for attempting to save a paralyzed man inside a burning house, before learning the man had escaped.

In 2006, he and another officer where shot in an apparent ambush in a northwest Fresno townhouse.

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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.
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