San Leandro to pay $3.9 million settlement amid claims officers beat, tased mentally disabled man in 2019

San Leandro is expected to pay $3.9 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming the city’s police officers brutally beat a mentally disabled man in 2019, causing his brain to bleed so badly that he suffered repeated strokes.

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

The case marks at least the sixth time that either officer — Ismael Navarro or Anthony Pantoja — has been named in a lawsuit claiming they acted violently while working for multiple police departments across the East Bay, the lawsuit claimed. Settlements were reached in four prior cases, while one remains open.

The latest payout highlights another clear example of “over-aggressive policing and a failure to accommodate a person’s disability,” said civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Shiflett. “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.”

It was unclear Monday afternoon whether either officer still worked for the San Leandro Police Department. Neither the San Leandro city manager’s office, nor the police department responded to a request for comment by this news organization.

The beating involving Shiflett happened shortly before dawn on Oct. 6, 2019, after someone called San Leandro police to report “suspicious” men walking on Maria Drive, according to the lawsuit.

Navarro and Pantoja appeared to quickly zero in on Shiflett — who was dressed as his favorite character from the anime show Naruto — as well as his cousin.

The cousin warned officers that Shiflett suffered from a traumatic brain injury that left him with a child-like demeanor, Pointer said. The prior brain injury, which Shiflett suffered while being robbed at gunpoint in 2008, left him with Broca’s aphasia. The condition makes it difficult to communicate and quickly comprehend others’ words and actions.

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

Yet the encounter took a turn when Shiflett tried running home, in an apparent bid to get his father to explain his condition to the officers, the lawsuit said. The officers gave chase, leading Pantoja to pull out his baton and beat Shiflett while Navarro tased him, the lawsuit alleged. At one point, the officers pinned Shiflett to the cement and pushed his head into the ground, all before Pantoja resumed pummeling him with the baton, according to the complaint.

Afterward, a different officer dropped Shiflett off at a hospital — a move that appeared to be an attempt by Navarro and Pantoja to “conceal their involvement” in the beating, the lawsuit claimed.

Pantoja did not turn on his camera until after the beating had ended, and Navarro’s camera remained off the entire time — all in violation of department policy, the lawsuit alleged. The department “also failed to conduct a subsequent internal affairs investigation,” Pointer’s firm alleged in a press release announcing the settlement.

On Monday, Pointer said Shiflett continues to suffer from the encounter, with the beating having made his traumatic brain injury even worse.

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

The settlement marks the latest in a growing list of payouts involving Navarro and Pantoja, the lawsuit alleged.

Bay Area Rapid Transit reached a settlement with a man who was tasered by Navarro in 2014, while the officer worked for the transit agency’s police department.

Both he and Pantoja also were named in another lawsuit that claimed Navarro wrongfully tased a man in 2018 while Pantola beat him with a baton, Shiflett’s lawsuit said. The incident happened while both worked for the San Leandro Police Department.

San Leandro also reached settlements in two other 2018 cases regarding Pantoja, Shiflett’s lawsuit said. In addition, the officer is named in an ongoing lawsuit over the death of Vasquinho Bettencourt, who was fatally shot by Pantoja in August 2020.

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