Indio Police Department cruise. Photo via indiopd.org/
Indio Police Department cruise. Photo via indiopd.org/

The city of Indio has agreed to pay $2 million to the family of an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by an Indio police officer in 2015.

Samuel Villareal of Thousand Palms died Oct. 14, 2015, following an investigation regarding a stolen vehicle, which led to a police pursuit that ended in the parking lot of the Christiansen Apartments, where Villareal was shot several times.

Villareal’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the city, which was recently settled despite a Riverside County District Attorney’s Office’s review finding Indio Detective Leo Perafan not at fault for the shooting.

According to city spokesman PJ Gagajena, the $2 million is to be paid by the California Joint Powers Authority, which made the economic decision to settle due to the uncertainty of a jury trial.

The D.A.’s review concluded that Villareal did not comply with officers’ orders to surrender and made movements with his hands suggesting he might have been reaching for a weapon.

A December 2016 letter from D.A. Mike Hestrin to the Indio Police Department states that after police found Villareal in a stolen Lincoln Continental, they tailed him through the city and into the apartment complex parking lot.

Once there, the letter states that Villareal reversed the car into an IPD SUV.

Villareal’s female passenger, identified only as S.U. got out of the car and surrendered, but Villareal did not and “made furtive movements as if reaching for something in the center console.”

The letter states that Perafan and other officers at the scene ordered Villareal to show them his hands, but that he did not comply, leading to the shooting.

Villareal died at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital about half an hour later.

“In fear for his life and the life of the other officers, Detective Perafan fired through the partially open driver’s door, hitting Villareal,” the letter states. “Under the circumstances, Detective Perafan’s decision to use deadly force was reasonable and done in justifiable self-defense and defense of others. Therefore, criminal liability does not apply.”

According to the letter, the D.A.’s investigation utilized interviews with the involved officers and S.U., as well as video footage from the apartment complex’s outdoor cameras.

However, Villareal’s family claimed in their lawsuit that officers erased video footage of the incident from the apartment complex’s cameras and from the apartment manager’s cell phone.

The letter claims that video footage seized from the apartment complex shows Villareal leaning towards the center console away from Perafan, who was approaching the driver’s side door.

— City News Service

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