A Chinese immigrant fatally shot by a Southern California police officer as he hid behind a door during a raid on a marijuana growing operation didn’t speak English and likely didn’t understand he was being told to show his hands, lawyers for the man’s family said Wednesday in alleging the officer had no reason to open fire.
Attorneys representing the family of 49-year-old Li Xi Wang said they have filed a claim against the city of Chino for damages, a prerequisite for a lawsuit. Wang was shot July 3 while police were searching a home.
Body camera video released by Chino police shows officers slowly going through the home and repeatedly calling out in Spanish and English for anyone inside to come out with their hands up. As they were walking through the house, an officer spotted Wang, said “Let me see your hands, dude,” and gunfire quickly rang out.
It wasn’t clear from the video whether Wang attempted to comply or made any other movement before the gunfire. He was unarmed.
Brian Dunn, a lawyer representing the Wang family, said the shooting violated protocols for police to use deadly force because Wang did not pose a threat to the officers.
“Mr. Wang was passive,” Dunn said. “He had nothing in his hands.”
Another attorney, Daniel Deng, said Wang came to the United States in 2005 and didn’t speak English. Deng said Wang may not have understood it was police officers in the home or what they were telling him to do.
“He could have believed he was being robbed,” Deng said.
Chino police, in a statement Wednesday, offered their condolences to the Wang family.
“Our department is also reviewing the shooting from all angles and if we find any tactics, policies, procedures or other issues or actions that need to be addressed, we will address them,” the statement said.
Police suspected drug trafficking after receiving complaints and obtained a warrant to search the home in a neighborhood of tidy two-story residences in Chino, a bedroom community of about 90,000 people east of Los Angeles. Wang lived in Fontana, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away
The police video shows officers speaking outside the home to Ai Yue Cai, a 53-year-old woman also from Fontana. Cai, who was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana and grand theft of electricity, is seen shaking her head as officers ask her if anyone else is in the house.
While police say she “indicated” no one else was inside, the lawyers for the Wang family said they believe she does not speak English and may not have understood the officers.
Officers then entered the home and began calling out to anyone who might be inside. In the video, Wang can be seen hiding behind an open door. One officer walks through the door, unaware Wang is there, and an officer behind then shouts for Wang to show his hands before a shot is fired. Police have not said how many rounds were fired but the video indicates only one.
Wang died later at a hospital. Authorities said they seized about 16.5 pounds (7.48 kilograms) of processed marijuana, 1,500 marijuana plants, $35,000 in cash, and evidence of identity theft at the Chino home and a residence in Fontana.
Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and an expert on use-of-force law, said the video is “completely uninformative.”
Weisberg said he’s unable to see if Wang was doing anything that appeared threatening to the officer or if he understood the command to raise his hands.
He said it’s unclear if the officer fired because he believed he was in danger or from the “shock” of seeing Wang behind the door.
Weisberg also said while officers are not required to get an additional interpreter, they could have postponed going into the home until they had a Chinese speaker present.
The Wang family attorneys acknowledged he had been working at the home for two to three months. He was a single father with an ailing mother who remained in China.
“He was hired to take care of the marijuana house,” Deng said. “He is not a drug dealer, he is not a smuggler, he’s just a simple worker trying to make a living by taking care of marijuana.”
Dunn said they have not interviewed Cai or seen an autopsy report. The county coroner’s office did not immediately respond to a request for the report.
The attorneys are working with Dr. Henry Lee, a forensic scientist who testified at the O.J. Simpson murder trial and other high-profile criminal cases.
The district attorney’s office says the case remains under investigation by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which referred questions to Chino police.