Family of mentally ill man shot by Tacoma police officer files claim against city

Cesar Beltran
Cesar Beltran Courtesy photo

Cesar Beltran’s daughter describes him as very eccentric.

The 55-year-old sometimes is paranoid that he’s being followed or that his food might be poisoned.

His mental health struggles manifest themselves in different ways, she said.

Shortly before a Tacoma police officer shot him June 29, 2013, Beltran was a using a piece of metal to dig a hole in the median of an intersection, said his daughter, Bianca Beltran.

Police said the elder Beltran attacked the officer with a pipe-like object.

Beltran’s family and their attorney, Jack Connelly, say the officer needlessly shot an unarmed, Spanish-speaking man who is mentally ill in the back as he was walking away.

“It was allowed by the officer to escalate into a shooting situation,” Connelly said.

The family has filed a claim seeking $10 million to $12 million in damages, and expects to file a lawsuit in about three weeks.

Beltran survived the shooting, and was charged with second-degree assault and obstructing an officer. The charges were dropped July 29 after he was found incompetent to stand trial.

The incident was examined by the Police Department’s deadly force review board, which has six voting members — four from the department and two civilians.

The board found in November 2013 that officer Michel Volk acted within policy and followed procedures, and no action will be taken against her, police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said last week.

The charging papers against Beltran give this account of the shooting:

Volk approached Beltran at East Portland Avenue and 28th Street because he appeared to be panhandling. She asked him to leave.

Beltran hit Volk with the piece of metal, and she told him multiple times to drop it. When he moved away from her, she used her stun gun on him.

He then raised his arm as if he was going to hit her again, and she shot him.

Beltran’s family and Connelly say that wasn’t necessary.

“This case involves exceptionally unreasonable, egregious and substandard conduct by the Tacoma police in shooting an unarmed mentally and physically disabled citizen in the back while he was walking away,” their claim states.

“... Despite his obvious mental health issues, the Tacoma Police Department and Officer Volk failed to acknowledge his disability or to act appropriately with a mentally ill individual.”

The claim contends the shooting “constituted an assault and battery against a disabled Spanish-speaking individual who was trying to get away from an unnecessary and unreasonable attack.”

It wasn’t Beltran’s first encounter with police.

Records show he pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree theft and felony harassment in 2012 for pulling a knife while appearing to ask a man in a vehicle for money.

He pleaded guilty in 2014 to first-degree criminal trespass and obstructing an officer for breaking into an unoccupied house in May 2013, the month before the shooting.

The incidents were related to his mental health, Bianca Beltran said.

With the criminal charges behind him and home from a competency evaluation at Western State Hospital, Beltran is living with his daughter and her family.

She said the father of five and grandfather of 10 is relieved to be done with the charges. He spends his time taking short walks, watching TV and talking with his family.

She is his care-giver since the shooting. He walks with a cane and has ongoing pain, she said. He needs help getting in and out of bed, and into the shower, she said.

He’s been doing physical therapy and is receiving mental health treatment.