San Leandro agrees to $3.9 million settlement over alleged beating, tasing of mentally disabled man by officers in 2019

San Leandro is slated to pay $3.9 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that police officers viciously beat a mentally handicapped man in 2019, causing his brain to bleed so severely that he suffered multiple strokes.

The city’s settlement came nearly five years after Sorrell Shiflett, 37, was tased and bludgeoned by two San Leandro police officers while wandering through a neighborhood with his cousin in search of a friend’s residence, according to the federal lawsuit.

The case represents at least the sixth time that either officer — Ismael Navarro or Anthony Pantoja — has been mentioned in a complaint alleging aggressive behavior while working for different East Bay police departments, according to the lawsuit. Four previous lawsuits were settled, with one remaining open.

The recent compensation is just another apparent example of “over-aggressive policing and a failure to accommodate a person’s disability,” according to civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, who brought the complaint on Shiflett’s behalf. “This is the carnage that results from police refusing — or failing to accommodate — a person’s disability, and being too quick to resort to force when they should be relying on the skills they’ve been trained and entrusted to use.”

Navarro still works for the San Leandro Police Department, while Pantoja does not.

A municipal official stated that Shiflett was on probation when the officers approached him, and he admitted to having a throwing knife with him at the time. The settlement was made “in the mutual interest of the parties,” according to the statement, with neither the city nor its officers admitting any wrongdoing.

“Our commitment to transparency and accountability is paramount, so we continually review policies and procedures,” said San Leandro interim police Chief Angela Averiett in a statement. It noted that the city’s laws were revised in 2022 to ensure that body-worn camera footage be kept for seven years.

Shiflett was beaten early before dawn on Oct. 6, 2019, after someone called San Leandro police to report “suspicious” males wandering down Maria Drive, according to the lawsuit.

Navarro and Pantoja appeared to instantly focus on Shiflett, who was dressed as his favorite character from the anime series Naruto, as well as his cousin.

According to Pointer, Shiflett’s cousin told cops that he had a traumatic brain injury that left him with a childlike appearance. Shiflett’s previous brain injury, sustained when being robbed at gunpoint in 2008, left him with Broca’s aphasia. The disease makes it difficult to communicate and grasp what others say and do.

Shiflett spoke to the officers and attempted to answer their questions, while speaking with an affect “that makes it readily apparent he suffers from a disability,” according to the lawsuit.

However, the interaction took a turn when Shiflett attempted to flee home, presumably in order to persuade his father to explain his condition to the authorities, according to the lawsuit. The cops chased Shiflett, prompting Pantoja to use his baton and beat him as Navarro tased him, according to the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the cops held Shiflett to the cement and forced his head into the ground before Pantoja continued pummeling him with his baton.

A different officer then dropped Shiflett off at a hospital, which appeared to be an attempt by Navarro and Pantoja to “conceal their involvement” in the beating, according to the lawsuit.

Pantoja did not turn on his camera until after the beating was over, while Navarro’s camera remained turned off throughout — all in violation of department rules, according to the lawsuit. The department “also failed to conduct a subsequent internal affairs investigation,” Pointer’s business claimed in a press release announcing the agreement.

On Monday, Pointer stated that Shiflett is still suffering from the incident, with the beating exacerbating his traumatic brain injury.

“This incident is a recurring nightmare for him, because he still struggles to understand why the police did this to him,” said Pointer.

The settlement is the latest in a string of transactions involving Navarro and Pantoja, according to the lawsuit.

Bay Area Rapid transport reached an agreement with a man who was tasered by Navarro in 2014 when the officer was working for the transport agency’s police department.

He and Pantoja were also mentioned in another case that alleged Navarro wrongfully tased a guy in 2018 while Pantola assaulted him with a baton, according to Shiflett’s complaint. The event occurred while they both worked for the San Leandro Police Department.

According to Shiflett’s lawsuit, San Leandro secured settlements in two other Pantoja-related lawsuits in 2018. In addition, the officer is mentioned in a pending case concerning the death of Vasquinho Bettencourt, who was shot by Pantoja in August 2020.

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