An officer from the Bakersfield Police Department earlier this week shot and killed a 73-year-old father, grandfather, and great-grandfather who had dementia and was not armed, adding another fatality in the California county with one of the highest per-capita rates of police killing civilians in the U.S. The department said the officer responded to a report of a man brandishing a gun, but police later said they recovered a small dark-colored crucifix from Francisco Serna’s person, and no firearm.
“My dad was murdered, I believe, for no reason,” Serna’s 47-year-old daughter Laura Serna told NBC News. Serna, like half the population of Bakersfield, was Hispanic. The officer involved has not been identified.
The incident in Bakersfield, located in Kern County in the San Joaquin Valley, began a little after 12:30 a.m. Monday, with police saying they were responding to a neighbor’s report of a man brandishing a revolver. “When officers arrived, a witness directed officers to the man, who was in the driveway of a nearby residence,” Bakersfield police said in a statement. “During the contact, one officer fired several rounds, striking the subject. Medical aid was summoned; however, despite their efforts, the man was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Serna’s family members told local news outlet KBFX that Serna, who had displayed signs of dementia since early 2015 and whose symptoms had recently worsened, often took walks late at night when he had trouble getting to sleep. Serna lived with his wife and one of his daughters. Family members also told reporters that Serna did not own any guns.
An ACLU analysis of police use-of-force data in California between 2008 and 2014 found that Kern County had the highest rate of police killings per capita among all California counties. 2015 wasn’t much better; law enforcement in the county killed more civilians last year per capita than any other county in the United States, according to the Guardian. The disproportionate number of police shootings is often linked, in part, to the gang violence and poverty afflicting Bakersfield and other areas of Kern County. Other reports have indicated that Bakersfield Police Department has struggled to diversify its force. In 2015, The Bakersfield Californian reported that the local police department was “twice as white as the city it serves.”
Bakersfield Police Sgt. Gary Carruesco told ABC News he was not sure how many rounds were fired or whether officers “had time” to use other “force options.” ABC News, citing unidentified sources, reported that at least seven shots were fired. There were seven officers present in total during the shooting, none of whom were wearing body cameras, Carruesco said. He also said there was no dashcam footage of the incident.
“The officer, at the time, the last thing he was told was that person was advancing toward him was in possession of a gun,” Carruesco told ABC News. “So this ignoring of the command to stop and the advancing on the officer, you know things can happen very fast… It doesn’t take but a split second to remove a firearm and fire on people.”
“It’s an unfortunate event,” Carruesco added. “It’s tragic for everyone involved.”
The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave. Bakersfield Police Department did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
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