Fam­ily sues over tick­ling of corpse

Law­suit claims Bak­ers­field of­fi­cer ‘des­e­crated’ body of man shot by po­lice.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Joseph Serna joseph.serna@la­times.com Times staff writer Veron­ica Rocha con­trib­uted to this report.

The fam­ily of a man fa­tally shot by Bak­ers­field po­lice in Novem­ber has filed a civil rights law­suit against the de­part­ment, al­leg­ing, among other things, that an of­fi­cer tick­led the dead man’s feet at the coro­ner’s of­fice.

In the suit, filed Tues­day in Kern County, the fam­ily claims that Ramiro James Vil­le­gas was un­law­fully shot by of­fi­cers and that his body was then “des­e­crated” at the Kern County coro­ner’s of­fice by an of­fi­cer who tick­led his feet and touched his head while crack­ing jokes.

The of­fi­cer at the cen­ter of the suit, Aaron Stringer, has been on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave since the in­ci­dent.

Stringer is ac­cused of grab­bing Vil­le­gas’ head and touch­ing his feet as he lay dead on a gur­ney at the Kern Med­i­cal Cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit. He re­port­edly told another of­fi­cer he “loves play­ing with dead bod­ies,” then laughed.

The of­fi­cer said, “Tickle, tickle” as he touched Vil­le­gas’ feet and then pulled on one of his toes, com­ment­ing that rigor mor­tis had not set in, the law­suit al­leges.

A trainee ap­par­ently was so dis­turbed by Stringer’s com­ments that she re­ported them to her su­pe­ri­ors, the fam­ily’s at­tor­neys said.

The fam­ily first filed a claim against the city in April, paving the way for Tues­day’s civil suit.

“It shows a de­grad­ing and de­spi­ca­ble view to­ward hu­man life,” said Ben Meise­las, who is rep­re­sent­ing the Vil­le­gas fam­ily with at­tor­ney Mark Ger­a­gos.

Bak­ers­field po­lice spokesman Sgt. Joe Grubbs said the de­part­ment had not been served with the law­suit, so he couldn’t com­ment.

“Given that this is pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion, it’s very likely that we won’t have a com­ment once we have been served,” he said.

He said an in­ter­nal af­fairs in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­der­way.

The law­suit al­leges that Vil­le­gas’ killing is part of a pat­tern at the Bak­ers­field Po­lice De­part­ment of shoot­ing to kill young, un­armed Latino men.

Vil­le­gas, 22, was shot Nov. 13 af­ter lead­ing po­lice on a pur­suit and crash­ing into a light pole.

The law­suit says that Vil­le­gas was driv­ing home to take care of his mother when po­lice tried to pull him over.

Po­lice re­ported that Vil­le­gas reached for his waist­band, Meise­las said. But the law­suit in­cludes what it says are ex­cerpts from mul­ti­ple wit­ness ac­counts in the po­lice report that state that Vil­le­gas had his hands up and did not pro­voke of­fi­cers to shoot him. He was un­armed.

A coro­ner’s report shows Vil­le­gas was shocked with a Taser and shot five times, in­clud­ing in the head, leg and groin.

The law­suit al­leges that when Stringer tam­pered with the body, he elim­i­nated the chance of an ac­cu­rate au­topsy and trau­ma­tized Vil­le­gas’ fam­ily.

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