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Update: Man shot by Napa Police dies; family’s lawyer questions police account of shooting

Pear Tree Lane shooting in Napa

Napa Police officers closed off Pear Tree Lane on the city's north side after an officer-involved shooting at the townhouse development Oct. 6. Jeremy Vellenoweth, the 26-year-old man who was shot in the incident, died in a Napa hospital Tuesday.

A day after the death of a 26-year-old Napa man following a shooting by police, a lawyer representing his family has begun questioning the department’s account of the Oct. 6 incident.

The Vallejo-based attorney Dan Russo on Wednesday disputed Napa Police statements that Jeremy James Vellenoweth had threatened his father with a gun and then pointed the weapon at officers before his fatal shooting outside a Pear Tree Lane home.

Furthermore, Vellenoweth was not pointing his firearm at police but upward when he was shot, and evidence points to at least two officers firing on him – possibly using a rifle – rather than one, Russo said in a telephone interview.

“It is wrong to say that he threatened anyone with a gun because it is not true,” said Russo.

Although Vellenoweth’s relatives had made no decision on a lawsuit or other legal action as of Wednesday, Russo moved to counter earlier Napa Police announcements that the incident arose after a man pointed a gun at his father during a family dispute and then, holding a firearm, acted “in an imminent threatening manner” when officers arrived at the home. A police statement on the day of the incident stated that one officer fired his service weapon and struck the man.

Vellenoweth died at 11:56 a.m. Tuesday at Providence Queen of the Valley Medical Center as the result of multiple gunshot wounds, according to Henry Wofford, spokesperson for the Napa County Coroner’s Office. He had been taken to the Napa hospital after the shooting, which followed a response by multiple officers to a townhouse in the 1600 block of Pear Tree Lane.

Family members decided to take Vellenoweth off life support, and he died 20 days after the shooting, according to Russo.

Attempts on Wednesday to contact Napa Police for comment on Vellenoweth’s death were unsuccessful. In an email Tuesday before the death was announced, police Lt. Chase Haag said the investigation into the shooting remains in the hands of the Napa County Major Crimes Task Force, with the Sheriff’s Office in the lead.

According to Russo, Vellenoweth’s relatives are awaiting Napa Police’s release of body camera video footage of the incident, which California requires law enforcement agencies to release within 45 days of an officer-involved shooting.

“We think we know what happened, but we want to see if it is confirmed, and then the family will make some kind of decision,” he said.

Russo added that Vellenoweth was likely intoxicated and suffering a mental breakdown, but had no criminal history or track record of violent behavior.

“I think he was having a nervous breakdown, a mental health crisis,” he said Wednesday. “But he had no history of any kind of violence, any kind of fighting, any kind of arrests. He was from all accounts a very sweet kid. It’s a tragedy no matter how you look at it.”

Vellenoweth had worked at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville for four years, Russo added, an employment confirmed later Wednesday by Lindsey Sin, spokesperson for the state Department of Veterans Affairs that operates the military retirement complex. A Sacramento Bee database of state workers indicates Vellenoweth had been a groundskeeper at the Yountville facility since 2017.

“We haven’t made a judgment on what happened that was actionable, but until we hear differently, it was handled inappropriately,” said Russo. “The question of whether (the police response) was appropriate in this case is up in the air until we see more evidence.”

The death of Vellenoweth follows two other officer-involved shootings that occurred in 2020, both involving deputies with the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.

On Oct. 5, Juan Adrian Garcia, a 47-year-old Napan, and father of three, was shot six times during a traffic stop at Highway 221 and Kaiser Road and died the next night. An Oakland civil-rights law firm filed a claim in January against Napa County, a prelude to a potential lawsuit, calling the death an “unprovoked murder” and saying Garcia was unarmed and not a threat to deputies, and that the deputy did not give him legally required warnings before firing his gun.

The Sheriff's Office said the deputy felt threatened because the man exited his vehicle and continued to approach the officer despite repeated warnings to stop.

Relatives of another man fatally shot by a Napa County deputy on April 24, 2020, filed a federal lawsuit against the county alleging excessive and unreasonable force. The suit, filed in March, arose from the death of the 24-year-old Napa resident Brandan Nylander near Napa County Airport at the end of a car pursuit from the Napa Walmart, where authorities said he stole ammunition and threw a hammer at a store employee before fleeing.

The Sheriff's Office said Nylander got out of his vehicle holding a shotgun and moved as if to seek cover behind his vehicle, which could have put him in a position to fire on arriving officers.

Robotic policing is now coming to America and Asia. California, Hawaii and Singapore are deploying robotic police to monitor quality of life crimes. Source by: Stringr

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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