A lawyer representing relatives of an unarmed black man killed in a hail of police bullets in a California Walmart parking lot accuses officers of profiling, stalking and unjustifiably shooting him.
Diante “Butchie” Yarber, 26, who had been driving his cousin and friends to a Walmart in Barstow, died when police fired what witnesses told The Guardian sounded like more than 30 bullets. A passenger was seriously wounded.
“They saw a car full of black people sitting in front of a Walmart, and they decided that was suspicious,” Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Yarber’s family, told the paper. “They just began pouring bullets … It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous. It’s mind-boggling, the use of force.” He said Yarber was hit “an estimated two dozen times.”
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Barstow officers opened fire after the driver of a black Mustang, wanted for questioning in a recent crime involving a stolen vehicle, suddenly reversed in a getaway attempt, crashed into two patrol cars and “accelerated toward the officers.” Police had been sent to the Walmart lot to investigate “a call of a suspicious vehicle,” the sheriff said in a statement.
Officers involved in the April 5 shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave, police said.
Dale Galipo, an attorney representing Marian Tafoya, 23, a back seat passenger seriously wounded in the shooting, said officers weren’t in the path of the Mustang, so they had no justification to open fire.
Video footage of the car after the shooting shows what appear to be many bullet holes. There’s also minor damage to the front bumper and driver’s side fender, but it’s unclear whether that happened prior to the incident:
Yarber’s aunt, Aleta Yarber, said the car belonged to her son, who was a passenger in the vehicle, and hadn’t been reported stolen. She said her son “has not been able to say much of anything” since the shooting, because “it was very traumatizing.”
Yarber was a “loving, caring and a friendly person,” said Samantha Robledo, who has a 7-year-old daughter named Naliyah with Yarber. “Our relationship was like no other,” she told HuffPost. Yarber also has daughters ages 9 and 1.
Yarber’s sister, Ruby Hawkins, told The Guardian that police frequently targeted her brother.
“They are the biggest criminals. They are bullies with badges … I don’t know how you can fear for your life with a person that is moving away from you,” she said.
Merritt, the family’s lawyer, wrote on Facebook that the shooting was ” the worse case of excessive and unnecessary force I have seen in my career.”
“The Yarber family deserves answers in the form of transparency by the Barstow Police Department,” he said. “Body, dash and surveillance video must be turned over to my office immediately. The San Bernardino County district attorney must throughly investigate and zealously prosecute the gunman involved.”