LATINO VOICES

Family Of Latino Teen Killed By Undercover Cops Will Sue

A legal filing in the death of Pedro Villanueva says California Highway Patrol officers had no "objectively reasonable basis to shoot."
Pedro Villanueva, 19, was fatally shot by California Highway Patrol officers on July 3, 2016.
Pedro Villanueva, 19, was fatally shot by California Highway Patrol officers on July 3, 2016.

The families of two teenagers who were followed and shot by plainclothes California Highway Patrol officers this month allege the cops never identified themselves before opening fire. 

The July 3 shooting in Fullerton killed Pedro Villanueva, 19, as he drove his father’s Chevy Silverado pickup and wounded his friend, Francisco Orozco,18. Officers chased the pickup onto a one-way street and opened fire after it made a U-turn, authorities said.  

“The officers never had an objectively reasonable basis to shoot,” court documents filed Tuesday by the teens’ families said. The filing signals an eventual lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol. 

Villanueva planned to enter college in the fall and worked in his parents’ Mexican restaurant, and Orozco was a landscaper, according to attorney Paul Kiesel, who represents the families. Both were unarmed. 

Photos released Tuesday show the truck’s windshield on the driver’s side and its front fender were hit with a barrage of bullets. 

Pedro Villanueva, 19, was fatally shot by California Highway Patrol officers on July 3, 2016 as he drove his father's pickup
Pedro Villanueva, 19, was fatally shot by California Highway Patrol officers on July 3, 2016 as he drove his father's pickup truck
Bullet holes show where California Highway Patrol officers allegedly shot a truck driven by Pedro Villanueva, 19.
Bullet holes show where California Highway Patrol officers allegedly shot a truck driven by Pedro Villanueva, 19.

The undercover officers had been monitoring a nearby “sideshow,” where groups of motorists drive doughnuts and perform other stunts with their vehicles, according to the Fullerton Police Department, which is investigating the shooting. The officers followed Villanueva as he left the parking lot where the gathering took place, according to Orozco’s statement. 

Police alleged that Villanueva reached speeds of 90 mph after leaving the sideshow. Orozco, however, contended his friend was driving slowly prior to the shooting. The teens had no idea that the black car following them for seven to 10 minutes was a police car, Kiesel said. 

The teens got lost and turned onto a one-way street, where the shooting unfolded, Kiesel said. Villanueva ”made a U-turn and drove directly into the path of the officers,” Fullerton police said in a statement. The officers opened fire as Villanueva drove toward them.

Orozco was shot in the right arm and is recovering from surgery, Kiesel said.  Villanueva died after officers provided no CPR or other treatment before paramedics arrived, the court papers allege. 

“They never identified themselves as law enforcement until after they stopped shooting,” Orozco said in a statement. 

It’s unclear where the officers stood in relation to the pickup’s path or how far away from them the vehicle was when they began shooting. 

The California Highway Patrol declined to answer HuffPost’s questions about the officers’ conduct, and referred all queries to Fullerton police and the Orange County district attorney. 

A spokeswoman for the Orange County prosecutor said the shooting is under investigation. 

Many police departments, though not the California Highway Patrol, prohibit officers from firing at a moving vehicle. The Los Angeles Times reported about dangers of police shooting at moving vehicles.

The fatal police shootings this month of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minnesota, as well as the ambush-murder of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, have overshadowed Villanueva’s death.

Kiesel said the “wrongful” shooting should not be overlooked.

“This shooting was the first in a timeline of escalating violence in America,” said Kiesel. “Never before has law enforcement been so directly targeted as they are today, yet never before has law enforcement brazenly exercised the use of lethal force.” 

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

CONVERSATIONS