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Family of teen fatally shot by Pleasanton police officer files claim against department

Family attorneys say private autopsy contradicts police version of events; Coroner's autopsy and DA's investigation still pending

The family of a 19-year-old San Jose man who was fatally shot by a Pleasanton police officer last month has filed a wrongful death claim against the department and has requested the case be handed over to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation.

The tort claim, submitted Wednesday by attorneys representing John Deming Jr.'s family, seeks unspecified damages and includes new allegations that the results of a third-party autopsy don't match the public statements made by police about the fatal shooting.

Deming family lawyers, of the celebrity firm Geragos & Geragos, Los Angeles, declined to release their third-party autopsy until they receive the autopsy report of the Alameda County Coroner's Office. The coroner's autopsy has not yet been released, nor has the Alameda County District Attorney's Office formal investigation report about the July 5 shooting.

The District Attorney's Office and the Pleasanton Police Department declined to comment on the claim.

"The Pleasanton Police Department and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office are both investigating this matter following established procedures and protocols. Because these investigations are still pending, it would be inappropriate, and unfair to all parties involved, to comment further at this time," said police s pokesman Lt. Jeff Bretzing in an email Wednesday.

Deming, a Piedmont Hills High graduate, was fatally shot by Pleasanton police officer Daniel Kunkel after an altercation outside a Pleasanton classic car dealership in the early morning hours of July 5.

Bretzing stated in a press conference July 7 that Kunkel acted "in fear for his life" because Deming, undeterred by Taser strikes, was beating the officer near unconsciousness.

The Deming family alleges fatal force wasn't necessary, and they dispute the version of events presented publicly by Pleasanton police, saying there are inconsistencies about where police initially found Deming, whether Kunkel was wearing a body camera, the extent of Kunkel's injuries and other allegations.

Deming family lawyers said that after the police department and the District Attorney's office responds to the claim, the next step will be to file a civil complaint. However, the firm stated it hasn't decided whether that complaint will be filed in county or federal court.

The claim filed this week names the City of Pleasanton, the Pleasanton Police Department, police chief Dave Spiller, Bretzing, Kunkel and 10 unspecified officers.

It states damages are requested based upon "wrongful death of John Deming Jr., and general and special damages arising thereto: Loss of society, comfort, and support, pain and suffering, loss of familial relationship; survivorship claims; cost and damages incurred in conducting independent investigation."

According to the claim, a summary of preliminary findings by forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht -- who was hired by the Deming family and is also an author of crime novels well-known for his opposition to the findings of the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination -- indicated there were no Taser burn marks on Deming's body, and Deming was shot at "distances significantly at odds with PPD's description" of the shooting.

The District Attorney's Office has not provided a time-frame for when its report will be completed. The fact the District Attorney's Office is investigating is routine and occurs after any officer-involved shooting in the county.

"When we complete our investigation and a letter outlining our findings is sent to the chief of police, it will be made available upon request. (5 working days after the chief receives it.) This is our policy regarding all officer involved shooting investigations," said DA's Office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick in an email Wednesday.

Kunkel remains on paid administrative leave until the investigation is concluded. Kunkel has been a police officer for eight years and was sworn in as a Pleasanton officer in 2014.

Deming died the morning of July 5 after he was spotted acting erratically inside a classic car dealership in Pleasanton. After multiple commands to stop, Deming was shot with a Taser several times, but he didn't comply with officers, Lt. Bretzing stated at a press conference two days after the shooting.

Deming ran out of the back of the building and encountered Kunkel, who was the only officer in the area, Bretzing said. Kunkel reportedly fired a Taser at Deming and hit the teen in the back. After a chase, Deming turned and charged at Kunkel, kicking the officer in the stomach, punching him in the head and knocking him to the ground, Bretzing said.

Deming then climbed on top of Kunkel and hit him in the face and head until the officer felt he was going to lose consciousness, Bretzing said. The officer fired at Deming with his Taser again but it didn't stop the attack, so the officer shot Deming in the face and torso, Bretzing said.

Kunkel was found unconscious by other officers, and Deming was taken to a trauma unit by ambulance, where he was pronounced dead, Bretzing said.

Comments

14 people like this
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Aug 28, 2015 at 8:12 am

"The tort claim, submitted Wednesday by attorneys representing John Deming Jr.'s family, seeks unspecified damages and includes new allegations that the results of a third-party autopsy don't match the public statements made by police about the fatal shooting. Deming family lawyers, of the celebrity firm Geragos & Geragos, Los Angeles, declined to release their third-party autopsy until they receive the autopsy report of the Alameda County Coroner's Office. The coroner's autopsy has not yet been released, nor has the Alameda County District Attorney's Office formal investigation report about the July 5 shooting."

Seems that the family and their attorneys should have at least waited until the county released their autopsy report. The family and their attorneys are going to end up with egg on their faces if it turns out that they based some of their accusations on facts contradicted by the county autopsy and missed by their third-party autopsy such as the claim that there were no taser burns.


8 people like this
Posted by Doubtful
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 9:27 am

I think that's the family's point. They are alleging that both the police report, and assumably their autopsy, will contract what their family autopsy report states, ie, they are alleging a giant cover up by both the police and their coroner. Personally, I seriously doubt the family has much of a chance but hey, if these fancy LA lawyer types can make it sound like OJ didn't do it, they can make anyone believe anything.


65 people like this
Posted by Diana
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 28, 2015 at 10:05 am

The Deming family has lost their beloved son. An unarmed teenager who had never been in trouble before: he was agitated, confused and talking to himself; he was likely having a mental health break. Protocol for responding to an individual in mental health crisis is to use non-confrontation and de-escalation tactics. Instead he was attached with pain compliance assault techniques. Pain compliance techniques are known to cause a confused person to panic, which he did, leading to the fatal encounter. This unarmed teenager was shot twice in the chest and once in the head. Highly trained professionals should have been able to manage this situation without killing someone’s son.
Pleasanton residents should be asking for answers and accountability.
John’s family is right to do everything they can to seek answers and accountability.


8 people like this
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Aug 28, 2015 at 11:16 am

@Diana :"....he was likely having a mental health break."

We'll see soon whether the toxicology report supports your belief.


64 people like this
Posted by Diana
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 28, 2015 at 11:43 am

The tox results will not change how police could have saved this teenager’s life by using non-confrontation and de-escalation techniques, it is accepted practice in law enforcement when dealing with a disturbed individual. Any way you look at it John was an unarmed disturbed teenager.

When a person is on the edge of mental illness there is a desire to calm the confusion of what is happening with self-medicating. Drug use is not a death penalty offence.

Our loved ones are all at risk if we do not demand the best possible outcome from every police encounter. Highly trained professionals should have been able to manage this situation without killing someone’s son.


22 people like this
Posted by Casual Viewer
a resident of Vineyard Hills
on Aug 28, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Good afternoon Diana,
I have read all your post during this whole situation and I am curious about your Police training. Also please share with the readers how many times you were in the same situation that the Officer was in when the young man was shot. It is very easy to say after the fact how it should have been handled but unless you were in the position of the Officer that night your comments really don't help the situation. So again I ask you as a fellow resident of Pleasanton, please tell us about your prior Police training and you personal experiences dealing with the same situation.


9 people like this
Posted by Registered Joe
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Registered Joe is a registered user.

You're all falling into the trap being laid out by the attorney for the family, Mark Geragos. He makes his money by trying cases in the court of public opinion long before the facts become known, and even then in ignorance of the facts. He's pulling at your emotions, and doing a great job of it as can be seen in this thread.


39 people like this
Posted by Donna
a resident of Del Prado
on Aug 28, 2015 at 1:36 pm

What if it was your son?


7 people like this
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Aug 28, 2015 at 1:37 pm

This forensic pathologist that the Deming family hired, Cyril Wecht, is a rather controversial figure to say the least. He was the lone dissenter on a nine-member panel of forensic pathologists re-examining the Kennedy assassination. He also published a book on the JonBenet Ramsey case in which he argued that her death was the likely accidental and the result of a sex game played by her father ( Wikipedia: Cyril Wecht: Web Link ). If I were a juror, I think that I would be a bit skeptical about any claims that he made about the present case.


55 people like this
Posted by Diana
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 28, 2015 at 2:17 pm

That I do have experience in crisis situations and crisis training is not relevant. As responsible citizens we have an obligation to hold our public servants accountable, especially the ones we have trusted with guns.

Facts we know: John Deming was an agitated and confused, talking to himself, unarmed teenager. He was shot with beanbags, tasered, attacked by the dog, shot twice in the chest and once in the head. We know this unarmed teenager is dead.

We know that pain compliance techniques forced John to panic and flee out the window.
We do not know what happened after he went out the window because there are inconsistencies about the bodycams. Without video from the body cam, that the officers were supposed to be wearing, we have no proof of what happened outside the window.

I am sorry for what this tragedy will cost our City but I want the City to be held accountable. If the police are not held accountable there will be no change. Highly trained professionals should have been able to manage this situation without killing an unarmed teenager.


17 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Aug 28, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Glad the officer wasn't hurt worse. It's a shame, but the kid made his own problems.


13 people like this
Posted by Damon
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Aug 28, 2015 at 3:26 pm

@Diana : "That I do have experience in crisis situations and crisis training is not relevant. As responsible citizens we have an obligation to hold our public servants accountable, especially the ones we have trusted with guns.....
I am sorry for what this tragedy will cost our City but I want the City to be held accountable. If the police are not held accountable there will be no change. Highly trained professionals should have been able to manage this situation without killing an unarmed teenager."

Sorry, Diana, but if you're passing judgements and second-guessing the specific tactics and procedures used by police professionals in a complicated nighttime situation involving a person who was either high on drugs or having a mental breakdown, then it's fair to ask what professional background and/or experience you have that qualifies you as an expert qualified to second-guess and critique the actions of the police professionals. If you don't have any expert background and/or experience, then fine say so. Welcome to the club. Your 2-bit opinion is worth as much as anyone else's here.


17 people like this
Posted by Registered Joe
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 3:51 pm

What if it were my son?

As honestly as I can answer, I'd wonder why he was acting strangely enough at 2 AM to break into a place of business that wasn't his, or mine, and proceed to attack the cops that responded.

If he had had a history of mental problems or drug use, then perhaps I'd have some closure as to the "why." At least there would be an explanation.

I wouldn't fault the cops. I just can't place the blame for my son's actions on the police. Bottom line, my son was the instigator, and it was his actions that led the police to respond in the way they did, not the other way around.


24 people like this
Posted by Granny
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2015 at 8:51 pm

I have personally had very negative and some positive experiences with our police force. Some are as they should be; defenders and protectors of us and our rights. Others are substantially below par to put it gracefully. I see a lot of inconsistencies in the article that could account for debate...such as shooting an 18 year old in the face? Why not a leg, arm shoulder? Kill him? Was that really necessary? Wasn't that excessive force? Since no burns were on the body the story already sounds fishy...


10 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm

The parents are right to want someone to be held accountable - go find who left him there alone, or gave him drugs (if he was on them), or left a mentally unstable person go in escorted.

Diana, what if the officer was your son or daughter and had used non lethal methods to no avail and was then attacked?

Sorry, he was a criminal, why he was a criminal is unknown. Attack a cop be prepared for the consequences, especially if they've already attempted non lethal ones first

You are just flat out wrong on this one


15 people like this
Posted by BobB
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 9:32 pm

People seem way too quick to believe the police on this. Much of it could be fabricated.


25 people like this
Posted by Pleasantonmom
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 28, 2015 at 9:52 pm

Many people seem to have the attitude that: "he was a criminal, he deserved to die"

Hey, next time a teenager is caught shoplifting a pack of gum, he deserves to be shot to bean bagged, tasseled, and then shot in the chest and head.

Right?

Right.


7 people like this
Posted by Registered Joe
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 11:27 pm

PleasantonMom,
No, not right at all. That's not the attitude being conveyed at all. Read again, please. The consensus is that John Deming was shot because of his actions, not because of his character, criminal or not.


7 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Las Positas
on Aug 28, 2015 at 11:34 pm

Diana:

Unfortunatley you live in a dream world where bad things dont happen or bad things are easy to take care of. Police only have 40 hours of mental health training. If im not mistaking, a PhD has eight years. If we go by what the police reported said took place that early morning, this was an individual out of control. The PPD said they tased him and bean bagged him with no results, they were doing what they were trained to do. However, those less then leathel tools had no effect. Their next tool is maybe go hands on. Talking to some one in this situation is not going to go anywhere. It sounds like the cop that fired his weapon was going hands on but the suspect started fighting back. At that point the cop had really no choice.


15 people like this
Posted by Lou Stuhle
a resident of Ponderosa
on Aug 29, 2015 at 2:05 am

hopefully it's as clear to the casual reader of this forum as it is to me that "diana" is just a garagos shill. probably a grad student working in his office. her constant use of the term "unarmed teenager" is a dead giveaway. it could just as easliy and more appropriately be changed to "deranged, aggressive, felonious adult". her breakdown of "facts we know" and "what we don't know" come right out of the garagos playbook of trying (unsuccessfully to even the moderately intelligent) to try this case publicly.

but i'll play along for a moment...

if it were my son? i would apologize to the officer for the actions of my son that forced him to do the unthinkable. i would reflect on my failures as a parent and hope any other children i have won't go as horribly astray.

bah, who are we kidding? i'd go for the money grab too, but of course it would be under the guise of "looking for answers".


9 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Aug 29, 2015 at 7:01 am

Diana, awesome to hear your insight on police tactics, despite having zero training or experience on the subject. Perhaps next you should visit a local hospital and direct a surgery


6 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 29, 2015 at 7:41 am

Pleasantonmom,
In your example if the criminal didn't stop after being asked by the police, continued to flee, cause additional damage , continue to after being shot with bean bags, and then attacked a police officer then yes, that individual made a really stupid choice over gum.

If you attack a police officer you should expect you're taking risk with your life.


25 people like this
Posted by Sue Thayer
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 29, 2015 at 8:35 am

Diana: thanks for being a voice of reserve and sanity in this fetid wilderness of anonymous, provocative and puffed-up Trumpians.

Funny how out-of-town lawyers are suddenly more persuasive, and women can be immediately accused of naivete -- reminds me of the line from the old Bond film where M replies that it's true that she doesn't have 'balls' -- and thus is not required to think with them. Remarkable, too, that you can be accused of shilling for the family -- by the very folks who are shilling for the PD.

We don't yet know what happened, but your open-minded perspective would be a terrible thing to waste -- or go unappreciated. Again -- thanks!


11 people like this
Posted by madscot
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 29, 2015 at 9:48 am

madscot is a registered user.

Odds are those that are arguing for the use of restraint, and de-escalation techniques or shooting in an arm or a leg are, (of course) Well trained in police technique and surely in the middle of a fight for one's life a cop should be able to with precision place his bullet in large muscle group avoiding any damage to bone or nerves to convince the assailant to let go of his throat. Those who express the notion that a combative very aggressive opponent can be talked down or persuaded clearly have never been in a fight, let alone a fight for one's life. Tragic as it is, the teen ager would be alive today had he not broken into a business, inflicted serious damage and then fought police who resorted to deadly force after this untainted child had resisted arrest violently. Fact in evidence, the young man was committing a crime and violently resisting arrest. If PPD mis-handled this situation evidence will prove such. However, assuming PPD is or was intent on harming this boy is a very long reach.


9 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 29, 2015 at 10:28 am

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

Sue,
Unless you are open to the idea that this individual attacked a police officer and got shot as a result and the only guilty party here is the individual who made repeated poor decisions after multiple failed non lethal attemts that lead to his unfortunate death you are guilty of the same close mindedness you are accusing those here of exhibiting.

No one is saying things shouldn't be reviewed, researched, improved upon. That is part of the process. However, diverting resources and creating a diluted social acceptance of a police officers authority and responsibility is far more damaging for future incidents than trying to defend someone who attacked an officer after multiple chances to stop.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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