The city of Pleasanton has settled the federal lawsuit filed by the family of a young San Jose man who was shot and killed by a Pleasanton police officer during an altercation after police found the 19-year-old man damaging a downtown car dealership nearly three years ago.
The settlement reached earlier this year saw the parents and estate of John Deming Jr. receive $285,000 in exchange for the wrongful-death case being dismissed with prejudice, as well as the city continuing to deny the family's allegations and admitting no liability or fault for Deming's death -- which county prosecutors previously deemed self-defense by then-Officer Daniel Kunkel.
"The Alameda County District Attorney's Office conducted an extensive investigation of the incident and concluded that Officer Kunkel acted in lawful self-defense, and other police officers responded appropriately," city attorney Dan Sodergren told the Weekly on Wednesday.
"While the city had strong legal defenses in this case, ultimately, the matter was settled for financial reasons taking into account the expense of litigation and the inherent uncertainty of a jury trial," Sodergren added.
Attorney Ben Meiselas, who represented Deming's parents John Deming Sr. and Linda Stasi on behalf of the Los Angeles law firm Geragos & Geragos, said this week "the matter has resolved" but declined further comment on the case when reached by phone.
Pleasanton Police Chief David Spiller said Friday, "We are pleased that this matter has been resolved and our hope is that Mr. Deming's family and the families of the officers involved can move forward with the healing process."
Deming was killed during the early-morning hours of July 5, 2015 after police found him inside a specialty car dealership on First Street while responding to a burglary report.
The 19-year-old from San Jose was found unarmed but jumping on cars, ignoring police commands and acting erratically, including throwing car jacks at officers, according to investigators.
After Deming ran from the dealership, he was confronted by Kunkel. A short chase ensued before Deming knocked the officer to the ground and began punching him in the head, according to the DA's Office's report.
Kunkel tried to stun Deming with a Taser to the forehead, but Deming kept punching Kunkel, the officer told investigators. Kunkel then fired three gunshots toward Deming when he felt himself losing consciousness, police stated. The 19-year-old later died at an area hospital.
In the lawsuit alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations, Deming's parents contended the officer's use of lethal force was not necessary or appropriate, and they challenged other conclusions in the DA's Office's report and official autopsy.
The DA's investigation noted that Kunkel didn't turn on his department-issued body camera because he felt it was unreliable and was too focused on responding to the burglary.
The Deming family sued in the city soon after the DA's Office declined to file criminal charges. Kunkel, along with Sgt. Eric Gora and Officer Mark Sheldon, were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Kunkel, who suffered head and bodily injuries in the confrontation, was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation. Kunkel no longer works for the Pleasanton Police Department, though Sodergren declined to confirm details about when or why the officer left the department.
"The city does not release other personnel information to maintain employee privacy," Sodergren added.
The civil case, later moved to the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, was litigated pre-trial for nearly two years until the two sides reached the $285,000 settlement in January. Senior District Judge Charles R. Breyer approved the stipulated order to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice Jan. 22.
The settlement does not constitute an admission of liability or fault by the city, the defendant officers or any city employees, according to its terms. Both sides acknowledge the city and officers dispute the plaintiffs' allegations and that the agreement is made by the parties to avoid the cost of litigation.
The city had racked up $162,658 in attorneys' fees and costs defending the lawsuit, according to Sodergren. Each side was responsible for paying its own attorneys' fees, under the settlement.
For the city's side, the settlement was actually overseen by the insurance pool it belongs to, the Bay Cities Joint Powers Insurance Authority, which has the right to assume control of any settlement that exceeds the city's retained limit (i.e. deductible) of $250,000, Sodergren said.
"Had the city continued to litigate the case and go through a jury trial, the total attorneys' fees and costs would have likely exceeded the city's retained limit," Sodergren said. "And while the city had strong legal arguments, it is impossible to predict whether a jury would have awarded plaintiffs damages. For these reasons, it made sense for Bay Cities to settle this case for $285,000."
The settlement payout broke down to $197,658 paid by Bay Cities and $87,342 by the city.
Deming's death represented Pleasanton police's first officer-involved shooting of any kind since 2005, and the department's first fatal officer-involved shooting since 2000.
The department experienced another fatal police shooting less than two years later, when Pleasanton resident Shawn Edward Estill, 58, was shot and killed by a Pleasanton police officer after allegedly pointing a replica handgun at police during a domestic dispute May 20, 2017.