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‘He was Not Armed’: California Man Shot 17 Times Sues for Excessive Force, City Appeals Lawsuit to U.S. Supreme Court

A Black man filed a lawsuit against a California city alleging three of its officers violated his constitutional rights and used excessive force when they shot him 17 times, but the city wants to fight the complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Masa Nathaniel Warden sued Redding and the city’s police officers involved in the July 2018 arrest. Warden said he is disabled and has post-traumatic stress because of the ordeal. He is seeking $360 million in damages, according to reports.

The city argues that the same immunity granted to one of the officers should apply to the other two. However, a federal court of appeals found Warden has grounds to pursue civil action against the officers and can proceed with the case.

According to Redding Record Searchlight, the case is the first the city has appealed to the Supreme Court.

“I’ve been here 19 years and we’ve never petitioned the United States Supreme Court,” said Redding City Attorney Barry DeWalt. “So, it’s pretty rare.”

The Redding officers first encountered Warden on July 23, 2018, while investigating a home burglary. Warden was captured on video entering the apartment complex where the break-in occurred. Authorities also identified Warden as the person who assaulted a district employee at a nearby school the same day. While searching for the suspect, the officers received reports of a man matching Warden’s description challenging people walking along the Sacramento River Trail to fight.

Cpl. Will Williams said Warden ignored his commands and reached for his waistband. He believed that Warden had a weapon. He shot Warden once, and he fell to the ground. Officers Bryan Cowan and Nick Weaver arrived within seconds of Williams firing a shot, legal documents show. Williams said he instructed Warden to show his hands, but Warden ignored his orders and kept reaching for his waistband. Cowan and Weaver then also fired on the man.

The police did not find any weapons on the scene or on Warden. He was treated for over a dozen gunshots to his lower body, according a district attorney’s office report.

Warden said he was attempting to push himself up off the ground to turn his head and tell the officers that he didn’t have a gun, reports show. He accused the officers of shooting him because of his race. Warden said his hands were up during the encounter with the first officer, and he yelled that “he was not armed with a weapon of any sort.”

“Given recent events around the country involving white police officers shooting other Blacks,” Warden said in the civil lawsuit, he was “in fear for his life” and wanted the officers to know he did not have a weapon.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett found that the officers were justified in the shooting of Warden.

Warden alleges the officers violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

Warden pleaded guilty to making criminal threats, residential burglary and resisting a police officer by force and was sentenced to four years in prison in August 2018. However, the city’s attorney argues that same plea deal should shield the other two officers from civil action.

Warden agreed to a no-contest plea deal that applied to charges from his interactions with Williams. A lower court and the appellate court agreed that Williams is exempted from the civil case. With the plea deal, the district attorney agreed to drop the misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest for his interaction with the other two officers.

The former police chief is also named in the suit for failing “to properly train the officers to avoid these constitutional violations.”

The city attorney contends, however, that none of the officers should face civil litigation.

People bringing lawsuits “can’t file a civil case and then to try to argue facts differently than what you agreed to when you plead guilty in the criminal case. So, we’re appealing that determination to the Supreme Court,” DeWalt said.

Warden’s civil complaint is on hold while the Supreme Court decides whether it will take up Redding’s appeal.

According to reports, Williams is facing charges of his own. He was arrested in April 2021 in connection with a large-scale marijuana operation.

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