SAN LEANDRO, Calif. - A disabled San Leandro man who was stunned with a Taser and beaten with batons by police when he was dressed as the anime character, Naruto, is now accusing an officer of destroying critical evidence of what happened to him.
Officer Ismael Navarro and the city of San Leandro "willfully destroyed video evidence, without credible explanation, along with records of Navarro's Taser trigger activations and entire use-of-force review file without any explanation at all," according to lawyers for Sorrell Shiflett, 37, who fell on his head and required three shoulder surgeries stemming from the violent arrest.
And in doing so, Shiflett's lawyers claim, the city and police department "crippled" their client's ability to prosecute his excessive force claims.
"I've never seen anything this egregious," civil rights attorney Adante Pointer said on Wednesday. "I could see one piece of evidence gone, but three?"
His mother, Kelley Davenport, told KTVU that she finds it incredulous that her son was so severely injured and there is no record of it. He had been hit on the head and his arm was broken. He had also suffered two strokes.
"I was completely outraged," she said. "I was the most upset that they didn't listen to his voice. He's disabled and anybody could tell. It's obvious."
San Leandro police Lt. Enguang Teng emailed KTVU saying the department typically does not provide comments regarding ongoing litigation or settled claims, which are laid out in a civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
But in court filings, the city's attorneys argued that there is no evidence that any Taser log existed – and therefore could not be destroyed. The city's lawyers also maintained that there is also no evidence of any intentional decision to delete any evidence.
City attorney Patrick Moriarty said San Leandro police saved the body camera video for one year and then it was automatically purged, because that was the policy back then.
"There is zero evidence of bad faith or intent to deprive use of the evidence," Moriarty wrote.
Sorrell Shiflett of San Leandro. Photo: Shiflett vs. San Leandro/US District Court
But that's not what Pointer, and Shiflett's other attorneys, Patrick Buelna and Ty Clarke, contend. They argued that the video should have been tagged as a felony arrest and retained for seven years.
Last month, Shiflett's lawyers asked a judge to sanction, or punish, the city.
"Because they destroyed the evidence, we can't put on our case," Pointer said. "We shouldn't have to prove our lawsuit anymore. Our most critical pieces of evidence were destroyed."
Davenport said she's incensed about the police's "lack of transparency."
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler will rule on whether to sanction San Leandro on Dec. 14.
Shiflett's saga began in 2008, when he suffered a traumatic brain injury after being robbed at gunpoint, leaving him with a cognitive disability.
Since then, his speech is slow, he has short-term memory loss and he has a large scar running from his forehead to the back of his skull. He also had been addicted to methamphetamine until 2022 to deal with his psychological issues, his lawyers said.
And because he has the maturity of a child, Shiflett is especially fond of a cartoon anime character, Naruto, a boy ninja.
That's the outfit he was wearing about 2 a.m. on Oct. 6, 2019, walking around town with his cousin when Navarro and K-9 Officer Anthony Pantoja got a call that "two suspicious white men in their 40s" were walking and carrying bags in San Leandro.
Their now-retired lieutenant, Randy Brandt, joined them.
The officers approached the pair and asked them if they could search them.
Sorrell Shiflett likes the cartoon anime character, Naruto. US District Court
San Leandro police also said Shiflett told officers he had a "throwing knife," which his legal team points out he hadn't used or brandished. And in fact, his attorney, Clarke, said he is "highly skeptical" that his client even told police he had a knife in the first place.
But when Navarro told Shiflet to put his hands behind his back, he took off running.
In his mind, Shiflett wanted to go home and get his father for help, his lawyers explained. He thought his father could tell the officers that he was disabled and couldn't understand them, his lawsuit states.
"He was afraid of them because they were overly agressive," his mother said.
That set off a police chase.
Navarro ended up using a Taser on Shiflett, who was standing about 10 feet away from him.
Shiflett fell backwards and hit his head on the ground.
More police arrived and officers handcuffed Shiflett.
Since Shiflett had fallen and hit his head, Navarro said that he preserved his body camera and told his supervisor what happened.
But Navarro later said during a deposition that he did not know why his body camera file had been deleted.
Also in a deposition, Navarro admitted it is his practice to document every trigger pull, but he failed to document the number of trigger pulls in this report.
"Tasers automatically create a log," Pointer said in an interview. "So where is it?"
Pantoja also ended up striking Shiflett on the hand and striking him twice in the leg with his baton when he saw him kicking and thrashing after he had fallen to the ground, the lawsuit states.
Pantoja realized he hadn't turned on his body camera video until he was handcuffing Shiflett and his video "conveniently failed to capture any of these uses of force," according to the suit.
About three minutes of that video was released to KTVU by Shiflett's lawyers. It shows Shiflett on the ground with his hands behind his back, crying out that he is disabled.
The officers ended up taking Shiflett to get medical care and dropped any arrest charges against him when he left the hospital, his lawyers said.
Davenport said her son is worse off today, years after the officers tased and beat him. He can't remember to do simple tasks, like brushing his teeth or getting dressed on his own.
"He's unable to pull himself together," Davenport said. "It's a very big loss of independence for him."
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez