Slain man’s crucifix mistaken for gun
Police commands repeatedly refused
LOS ANGELES | A 73-year-old man with dementia fatally shot by police had a crucifix — not a gun — as officers were led to believe, Bakersfield police said Wednesday.
A coroner found the plastic crucifix on Francisco Serna well after an officer fatally shot him near his home just after midnight Monday, Sgt. Gary Carruesco said.
It’s still unclear if a 911 caller who had reported a man with a gun may have mistaken the crucifix for a weapon, as Mr. Serna’s family speculated.
Officer Reagan Selman fired at Mr. Serna seven times after the grandfather refused repeated commands to take his hand out of his pocket and stop walking toward police, incoming Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin said at a news conference late Tuesday.
In addition to the 911 caller, Chief Martin said two people who had encountered Mr. Serna hours before the shooting thought he was armed.
Meanwhile Mr. Serna’s family is calling his death murder. They say they want an independent investigation into the shooting and for the U.S. Justice Department to look into whether police violated Mr. Serna’s civil rights.
“It’s difficult to accept that our dad’s life ended so brutally, abruptly and with such excessive violence,” according to a family statement. “Our dad was treated like a criminal, and we feel like he was left to die alone without his family by his side.”
Officer Selman, who had been on the force about 16 months, was placed on routine administrative leave, as were the other officers at the scene.
Chief Martin said it was an extremely difficult set of circumstances for an officer fearing a man with a gun and a terrible situation for everyone involved. “This is a very tragic incident for their family, for this community as a whole and for the police department,” he said.
Chief Martin could not say how many of the seven shots hit Mr. Serna.
The shooting came about 20 to 30 seconds after a woman who had encountered Mr. Serna pointed him out to police as he walked out of his house across the street and toward them, Chief Martin said.
Earlier on Sunday afternoon, Chief Martin said another neighbor encountered Mr. Serna, saying his hand was in his jacket pocket as though he had a gun. Mr. Serna tried to force his way into the house of the neighbor, who called his behavior bizarre, Chief Martin said.
Mr. Serna left, and the neighbor, who had recognized him, did not immediately report the incident.
Then about eight hours later, the woman who lives across the street from Mr. Serna was getting out of a car in her driveway when he came up behind her and asked her to get back into the car. The woman also saw Mr. Serna’s hand in his jacket pocket and thought he had a gun, Chief Martin said.
The woman and a friend she was with ran into the house, and her boyfriend called police and said a man in the driveway had a revolver and was brandishing it at the women, Martin said.
Officer Selman and his partner were first to arrive, followed by five other officers. Only Officer Selman fired.
Mr. Serna’s son, Rogelio, posted a video on Facebook about the shooting Tuesday. “Right across the street is where the police shot my father … and my dad was not armed,” Rogelio Serna said in the video.
He wrote in another post that his father had dementia and would go on small walks when he had trouble sleeping. “Last night he took his last walk,” Rogelio Serna wrote.
Rubia Serna was consoled by sons Jesse (right) and Frank at a candlelight vigil Tuesday in Bakersfield, California. Francisco Serna, 73, her husband and their father, was shot by police when he refused to take his hand out of his pocket, which held a crucifix.