The December shooting by police of an unarmed 73-year-old man, which sparked outrage and calls for a federal investigation, has been ruled within Bakersfield Police Department policy and state and federal guidelines, police said Thursday.
Police Chief Lyle Martin called the death of Francisco Serna "unfortunate" and "tragic," and said his thoughts and prayers go out to the Serna family and the community.
But he said he found the actions of the officer who fired justifiable under the law given, among other things, that police were twice told by witnesses — once on their way to the scene, and once upon arriving — that Serna was armed with a revolver.
The police review board's findings will be reviewed by the District Attorney's office as well as at the state and federal level, Martin said.
About 10 family members of Serna marched outside police headquarters following the press conference. Serna's daughter, Laura Serna, said she's angry but not surprised by the department's ruling.
"I want to tell everyone to be careful," she said. "Some of the police are not your friend here."
She said the family is in the process of taking legal action through its Fresno-based attorney, Lazaro Salazar. He could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
The events leading to Serna's shooting unfolded rapidly on the early morning of Dec. 12.
Serna approached police less than a minute after officers arrived to a report of a man armed with a gun who walked up to a woman as she was dropped off at her house in the 7900 block of Silver Birch Avenue.
While speaking with police, the woman pointed Serna out as the armed man as he walked toward officers with his hands in his jacket.
Officer Reagan Selman repeatedly told Serna to stop, but he kept walking toward the officer, the chief said. Selman backed up and repeated commands. Serna remained silent as he continued moving forward.
Finally, the officer was backed into a position where further retreat was blocked by a fence, Martin said. The officer warned Serna he would shoot. Serna still made no response other than to advance, hands still in his jacket.
Selman opened fire. Five of seven rounds struck Serna, who died at the scene.
A search of Serna afterward didn't turn up a weapon, just a faux wood crucifix.
Family have said Serna suffered from early onset dementia and was out for a walk when the shooting happened.
Weeks after the shooting, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced she had launched civil rights investigations into the BPD and Kern County Sheriff's Office for "a pattern and practice of excessive force" and related issues. The investigation is civil, not criminal.
Officials with both agencies said they would fully cooperate. Martin said Thursday he could not comment further on the investigation, and questions regarding it must go through the Attorney General's office.
He noted, however, that shortly after the incident he invited the FBI to review evidence in the shooting. He said as chief he will continue to be as transparent and open as legally possible regarding the actions of the department.
Preparations are being made to return Selman to active duty.