Family demands federal investigation after Bakersfield police kill 73-year-old man

The family of an unarmed 73-year-old man who was killed by a Bakersfield police officer is demanding state and federal investigations into the shooting.

“It is difficult to accept that our dad’s life end so brutally, abruptly and with such excessive violence,” a family statement said. “We felt our dad was stolen from us at a time our family should be celebrating the holidays, birthdays and making happy family memories. Instead, our dad was murdered by BPD. … Our dad was treated like a criminal and we feel he was left die alone without his family by his side.”

Monday’s killing of Francisco Serna, who was in the early stages of dementia, has sparked anger and grief in the San Joaquin Valley and raised questions about how the department handles police shootings.

A lone officer fired seven rounds at Serna after he was spotted outside his home just after midnight and refused to take his hands out of his pockets when ordered to do so by police. The shooting stemmed from a neighbor’s 911 call saying that a man had menaced her with a gun. When police searched Serna’s body and the scene however, they did not find a weapon. Instead, officers found a dark, faux wood crucifix.

At a vigil Tuesday night, family spokeswoman Cyndi Imperial said Serna’s relatives have requested an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. They have also asked the California attorney general to appoint an independent investigator in the matter.

Reading from the family’s statement, she said the Bakersfield Police Department’s “own investigation has confirmed that Francisco Serna was not armed.”

The family and members of the grassroots community group Faith in the Valley plan to hold a news conference Wednesday outside City Hall, where they are expected call for better police training, greater transparency and broader diversity in the department.

On Tuesday, newly named police chief Lyle Martin disclosed details of the shooting and acknowledged that the community has been deeply effected.

“This is a very tragic incident for their family, for this community as a whole and for the police department,” he said.

The episode began at 12:35 a.m., when a woman arrived at her home in the 7900 block of Silver Birch Avenue — the same block where Serna lived — and began removing items from a friend’s vehicle, the chief said. 

Serna approached the woman, stood behind her and questioned her about living in the neighborhood. She told police he was acting strange. He then asked her if he could get inside her vehicle, the chief said.

During the exchange Serna had one hand in his pocket, Martin said. The woman told police that she saw a black- or brown-handled object in his jacket and that she believed it was a firearm.

Her friend opened the car’s back door and allowed Serna to look inside. As the woman ran inside her home and told her husband to call police, her friend drove off. The husband told a 911 dispatcher that a man outside had a revolver and had brandished the weapon, the chief said.

Two police officers responded just after 12:40 a.m. As officers and the couple stood outside, the woman spotted Serna exiting his home across the street.

Martin said she pointed toward Serna, and said, “That’s him.”

The couple rushed inside their home and closed their doors. The officers took cover. Serna kept both hands in his jacket and continued walking toward police as they ordered him to stop and show his hands, Martin said.

Serna ignored the officers’ commands and walked toward Officer Reagan Selman. When Serna was 15 to 20 feet away, Selman fired seven rounds at Serna, he said.

Martin said Selman “made that decision” as Serna moved toward him.

Serna was struck and fell in the driveway. It is unclear how many rounds struck Serna.

“No lower levels of force were attempted by any officer,” Martin said.

Serna never lunged or threatened officers, he said.

Martin said 20 to 30 seconds had elapsed between the woman identifying Serna and the officer firing the first shot. By then, five more officers had responded and saw the shooting. None of the other officers fired any rounds, Martin said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Serna’s family was prevented from seeing and comforting their mother for 14 hours as police investigated the shooting, according to Imperial.

“Family who asked to see their mother was told by BPD that if they crossed the police line they would be arrested,” she said.

The family said police prevented Serna’s wife and daughter from checking on him “even when they asked to be allowed to be next to him just to hold his hand.”

“Details were withheld from the Serna family and they learned from social media and the 5 o’clock news that their dad had passed away,” Imperial said.

Selman and the six other officers were placed on routine administrative leave. Selman joined the force in July 2015. It was his first police shooting.

Bakersfield police had visited Serna’s home at least twice before because he would become confused and activate a medical alarm, son Rogelio Serna told The Times. A police spokesman confirmed that officers had visited Francisco Serna’s home, but could not provide any details.

Francisco Serna had shown signs of dementia since 2015 and occasionally experienced delusions, his son said. His symptoms seemed more pronounced in the last month, his son said. 

About eight hours before the shooting, a neighbor told police that Serna was banging on the neighbor’s door and windows, authorities said. The man said Serna grabbed his hand, then tried to drag him outside and challenged him to a fight, police said.

The neighbor said Serna also kept a hand in his pocket and acted as though he had a gun, although he never saw one, police said.

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