Carson sheriff’s deputies shot homeless man in back, lawsuit alleges

Attorneys for the family of a 34-year-old homeless man who they say was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies while on his knees have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county.

Lawyers allege in the lawsuit that deputies used excessive force when they shot Arturo Cernas four times in the back outside a gas station in Carson. The lawsuit also says the deputies failed to render aid immediately and failed to use proper tactics to de-escalate the situation.

Attorneys for the family filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of Cernas’ mother, Beatriz Loera, and his three children. Luis Carrillo, attorney for the family, could not be reached for comment.

The Sheriff’s Department released a statement Tuesday saying it has not officially received the lawsuit “but takes all deputy-involved shootings seriously,” adding that it released information, including video, about the incident.

“The Department is deeply committed to protecting our diverse communities without bias and prejudice,” the statement said.

The shooting occurred in the early hours of Aug. 7 at the Chevron gas station at Albertoni Street and Central Avenue.

The Sheriff’s Department, which has released audio and video recordings of the incident, said deputies with the sheriff’s Carson station were dispatched to the gas station after an employee called about a man screaming and walking around the premises.

“It’s one Latino guy that’s acting crazy, screaming outside,” the caller is heard in the 911 recording. “So, I want him to leave.”

Upon arriving, deputies came across a man with dark clothing and a backpack, later identified as Cernas, standing by the entrance of the gas station’s market.

Video from the body-worn camera of a deputy, whom the Sheriff’s department has identified as Carlos Maciel, captured the interaction and shooting.

In that video, Maciel and a second deputy approach Cernas, asking him questions before one deputy shines a light on the lower left pocket of his pants. The Sheriff’s Department said deputies immediately noticed “the butt of a handgun protruding” from the pocket.

Maciel is seen in the video pulling out his service weapon while asking Cernas what was in his pocket. But Maciel’s question gets muddled with commands from the second deputy telling Cernas to place his hands in the air.

“I found it on the way over here, bro,” Cernas is heard telling the deputies before throwing his bag to the ground. “Come on, stop this. Take it then, grab it,”

Eventually both deputies take cover behind the doors of a cruiser while instructing Cernas to get on his knees and place his hands behind his head.

The Sheriff’s Department said it took several commands until Cernas complied. Deputies still continued to warn him not to reach into the backpack or left pocket.

In another body camera recording, the second deputy is heard telling Maciel that he plans to use a 40-millimeter foam projectile if Cernas reaches into his left pocket. Shortly after, the deputy fires the projectile while Maciel fires his service weapon at the same time. Cernas can be heard screaming in the background.

The incident was also captured by the gas station’s surveillance cameras, which show Cernas on his knees, reaching into his backpack, then pulling out what appears to be a weapon from his left pocket. It appeared he was trying to discard the weapon.

Los Angeles County fire paramedics declared Cernas dead at the scene. The weapon in Cernas’ pants turned out to be a BB gun that resembled a firearm.

An autopsy report included in the family’s complaint showed that Cernas was shot four times in the back, damaging his heart and small intestines and causing other injuries.

The lawsuit accuses deputies of failing to follow proper tactics to de-escalate the situation, such as notifying the agency’s mental health teams to respond, and of being indifferent to Cernas’ mental health condition. It also accuses the deputies of failing to warn Cernas that they planned to use nonlethal weapons.

The family is seeking monetary damages.

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