The parents of a man killed by a Napa Police Department officer claim excessive force was used against their son.
Police say Napa resident David Molina, 27, was killed early on a December 2018 morning after a man reported that Molina assaulted his girlfriend and brandished a handgun. Officer Christopher Simas’s body camera showed he saw Molina skateboarding in the area and Molina ignored commands to put his hands up and get on the ground. Simas, armed with an assault weapon, followed Molina in a five-minute chase through the nearby Vineyard Terrace apartments.
According to police, it ended when Molina fired eight or nine shots out of the gun during a struggle. The gun jammed and Simas was able to regain control of the weapon before Molina charged him, police say. The officer fired five rounds at Molina.
Molina’s parents dispute this account of things. They say Molina surrendered and Simas placed the nose of his rifle into the ground while he tried to handcuff Molina. He accidentally fired his gun into the dirt, was startled and responded by opening fire on Molina, who was unarmed, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims no weapons were found on or near his body. Police acknowledge that he was not armed at the time of his death, but say they found a revolver in the crime scene that they believe was his.
Molina’s death was the first high-profile Napa Police Department officer-involved shooting caught on body camera, though the sky was dark and the area was not well-lit. Simas’ body camera did not capture exactly what went down in the moments before the fatal encounter.
Napa Police Chief Robert Plummer would not comment citing pending litigation, but has previously said if Molina survived, he likely would have faced allegations of attempted murder of a police officer, possession of a loaded firearm by a felon, obstructing police and forcibly resisting a police officer.
That night, Molina headed to retrieve his stolen cell phone from thieves and one of the thieves called to report an alleged assault, according to the lawsuit.
Molina’s father, Jorge Molina, told the Register last year that on the night of the shooting, his son had dined and looked at a Christmas tree with a couple of friends. Molina got into an altercation with his friends and they kicked him out of the car, and Molina left behind his cell phone and wallet, his father said. Molina told his father he was headed to their apartment to retrieve his belongings.
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Jorge Molina said he hugged his son for the last time and told him that getting his phone back wasn’t worth it. He said his son eventually called asking for a ride, and said an altercation had occurred and the woman slapped him in the face.
The lawsuit also notes that Molina had an intellectual disability from a childhood brain injury. Molina’s father previously told the Register that he was hit by a car at age 7, suffered frontal lobe brain damage and struggled with bipolar disorder.
Simas did not use any tactics to deescalate the situation and pointed his gun at Molina, who fled in fear, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims the City of Napa has regularly used excessive force against residents, however officers are never “found in violation of department policy, even under the most questionable of circumstances.”
The department’s failure to discipline Simas shows there’s a policy, entrenched culture and attitude of indifference toward protecting resident’s rights, and deaths and injuries that officers cause, according to the lawsuit.
Molina’s parents are seeking an unspecified amount of money in damages and attorney’s fees.
“I miss him tremendously,” Molina’s father told the Register last year. “He was a ray of sunshine.”
The Napa County District Attorney’s Office is tasked with issuing a report and explaining why an officer should or should not be charged for using deadly force. DA Allison Haley said over email that her office was still awaiting reports from the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the incident.