Two Modesto police officers bear no liability in the death of Sammy Galvan, who was shot eight times when the authorities responded to a domestic dispute in his home 3½ years ago, a federal jury said Friday.
Jurors deliberated for less than one day, then unanimously returned a verdict in favor of the city as the five-day trial wound to a close in U.S. District Court in Fresno. Because of its no-fault finding, the panel did not consider the question of damages for Galvan's parents, who sought $3 million.
Susan and Ramon Galvan alleged in their wrongful death lawsuit that the officers used excessive force when they confronted their 22-year-old son, who was lying on his bed when police shined their flashlights into a darkened cottage behind his parents' home on West Roseburg Avenue.
The officers said they opened fire because Galvan jumped out of bed, assumed a fighting stance while holding a knife and advanced toward his girlfriend in a threatening manner, yelling, "Shoot me, (expletive)."
Never miss a local story.
'Reactions were split second'
City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said the verdict shows that the officers responded appropriately in a difficult situation.
"Their reactions were split second in response to the threat that they perceived to Sammy Galvan's girlfriend," she said, noting that the city made no settlement offers as the case proceeded to trial.
Neither the Galvans nor their attorney, Walter Riley of Oakland, could be reached for comment.
The Modesto police were not available for comment.
Galvan was killed about 1 a.m. on Aug. 22, 2004, after his mother called 911 asking for help with a family dispute. She was concerned because her son and his girlfriend, Yesenia Perez, had a loud argument after they returned home from a party.
Officers Lyndon Yates and Mirl Morse agreed to talk to the couple.
All was quiet when the officers approached the detached cottage where Galvan lived.
According to court records, the city contends that the officers yelled, "Modesto police," as they shined their flashlights through an open doorway, but the Galvans questioned whether such an announcement was made.
Moments later, the officers were firing into the cottage.
One of the officers dragged Perez, who had been at the foot of her boyfriend's bed, outside. Backup officers tackled Ramon Galvan, who was standing near his home because he had been told to keep his distance.
Father's claim also rejected
Both sides agreed Perez yelled, "Don't do it," to Sammy Galvan just before the officers shot him. The city claimed Galvan was threatening his girlfriend and the officers. The Galvans claimed their son was not given a chance to comply with the officers' orders.
Jurors rejected the wrongful death claim brought by the Galvans. They also rejected Ramon Galvan's claim that officers were unnecessarily rough, leaving him with a shoulder that was broken in three places.
Only eight jurors are needed when civil cases come to trial in federal court, Wood said, and they were unanimous.
The jury did not hear about previous contacts between the police and Sammy Galvan because Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill said the trial would proceed in two parts, beginning with liability and proceeding to arguments about damages if needed.
In the end, the question of money was moot.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2338.