Family sues Fresno police for killing man after mother called police

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno police are facing a lawsuit for shooting and killing a man armed with a hatchet after the man's mother called for police.

The deadly police shooting came with quick answers and a simple explanation: Rubber bullets couldn't stop Oliver Hernandez and an officer shot him four times as he moved towards a SWAT team with an ax in his hand.

The city's Office of Independent Review found the shooting justified and said Hernandez left officers no choice.

"But if you look at the report, it's clear that it's slanted and biased in the sense that it said they needed to shoot him to protect the family members, for example," said plaintiff's attorney Stuart Chandler. "Well, the family had been gone for hours and behind police barricades."

Chandler filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Fresno police on behalf of the Hernandez family, including his mother, who called police to handle her son last January.

"By the time police arrived, he'd calmed down and they asked the police to leave," Chandler said. "They wouldn't leave. They demanded the family leave the apartment, which they complied with, only after they were were given assurances that they wouldn't shoot to kill."

The O.I.R. report shows officers tried to get Hernandez to surrender over a loudspeaker and over the phone.

About seven hours into the standoff, they got a warrant, went into the closed room, and fired six non-lethal rubber bullets before the deadly real shots.

But Chandler says they shot a man still on the ground, and he's challenging the timeline too.

"Witnesses on the scene don't say anything about some pause in the shooting," he said. "Just 'bang bang bang bang bang.'"

And in fact, one witness described what he heard to Action News as "Boom boom boom boom."

The SWAT officers had no body cameras, so Chandler says it's hard to know what really happened, but he says Hernandez wasn't a threat to anyone until police created a tense situation by bursting into the bedroom where he was hiding.

"They could've used any other means other than just going in and shooting him," he said.

Action News asked Fresno police for comment, and Chief Andy Hall told us the city policy is to not comment on pending litigation, but he thought this situation called for some response.

"I feel it is important to inform the public that this officer involved shooting was investigated by the Fresno Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, the Fresno County District Attorney's Office and the City of Fresno's Office of Independent Review," he said. "All three reviews concluded that the use of lethal force was justified. I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the family who is enduring the loss of a loved one."

SWAT officers got body cameras later in 2019, becoming the last Fresno police unit to get them.
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