Evidence debated in police shooting suit

FRESNO, Calif.

32-year-old Steven Vargas died in October of 2009 when a police sergeant said he felt threatened by a man who witnesses told him was armed with a gun.

As it turned out, Vargas did not have a weapon.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Vargas' family alleges the shooting was not justified. Tuesday the judge ruled some details about the suspect's lifestyle will not be revealed during the trial.

Attorneys were haggling over what evidence and analysis they want allowed in the trial against Sergeant Mike Palomino.

One thing that the jury won't hear is character traits related to Vargas. The judge said it's irrelevant since this case is about liability.

"It's a big victory for the family because we don't think this case should be tried based upon what type of person Steven Vargas was. We think it should be tried based upon what the officer knew when he arrived at the scene and the officer didn't know Steven Vargas," the plaintiff's attorney, Arturo Gonzalez, said.

Vargas' family is suing the veteran officer for firing several shots at a man they say was not a threat.

The lawsuit questions whether the officer had adequate reason to believe Vargas was armed.

The suit also poses the question of whether Vargas heard the sergeant's repeated commands to show his hands. Witnesses said his radio was on at the time.

"Look I understand police officers are not perfect, if an officer does something wrong tell them you should have done this, you could have done this different and sometimes it's important to do that because sometimes for the officer him or herself, sometimes they put themselves in a dangerous situation," Gonzalez said

The judge will also have to decide whether the City of Fresno will be tried at the same time as Palomino.

The plaintiffs are hoping they will be they can discuss the number of police shootings in Fresno and a carefree culture they believe exists at the police department.

Vargas was under the influence of PCP and ramming his SUV into another vehicle at the time of the shooting. When he bent down, that's when the officer fired several shots. The trial begins December 6.

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