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.