A Cal Poly University Police Department officer whose controversial takedown and arrest of a man caught on cellphone video last month was one of two officers cleared in the fatal shooting of a mentally ill Fresno man in 2015, The Tribune has learned.
Cal Poly Officer Felipe Manuel Lucero was conducting off-campus alcohol enforcement on Foothill Boulevard on March 10 with two other undercover officers when they suspected Aidan Dugan-Culton, 21, of stealing a bottle of wine from a store. A nine-minute video of the incident begins with Dugan-Culton on the ground and struggling as the plainclothes officers hold him down, one with his arm around his neck and the other two holding his legs.
Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said last month that the officers were checking IDs when Dugan-Culton “became belligerent and shoved an officer. When that officer informed Dugan-Culton that he was under arrest for assault, Dugan-Culton began to resist.”
“Because he had already shoved an officer and was failing to comply, Dugan-Culton was restrained, and ultimately three officers were required to safely subdue him and place him in handcuffs,” Lazier said.
Dugan-Culton pleaded not guilty last month to three misdemeanor charges of battery on a peace officer — Lucero, according to the complaint — resisting an officer and shoplifting. He is due back in court Friday.
In the video, Dugan-Culton can be heard telling an officer that he hadn’t touched him.
Dugan-Culton’s attorney, Patrick Fisher, said Thursday that the scene was chaotic and that his client was talking back to officers. Lucero, however, did not identify himself as an officer when he confronted his client and then drove him violently to the ground, Fisher said.
That wasn’t the first time Lucero’s been accused of unnecessary force.
In September 2015, while with the Fresno Police Department, Lucero and another officer responded to a report of an armed disturbance and confronted Freddy Centeno, who allegedly ignored commands to show his hands. Police at the time said Centeno, 40, pulled a water pistol from his shorts and was shot seven times by both officers. He later died at a hospital.
Body camera video released by a Centeno family attorney in March 2016 showed that the officers fired 10 shots just seconds after emerging from their patrol cars. Centeno was not armed but was later found to be holding a black garden hose nozzle.
The Fresno County District Attorney cleared the officers of wrongdoing.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Centeno family accused Lucero, the other officer and the Fresno Police Department of negligence, unreasonable search and seizure, violation of due process and unconstitutional practices. The lawsuit sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Attorneys representing Lucero and the city of Fresno responded, saying the officers’ actions were justified. The lawsuit was then refiled in federal court, and a settlement hearing is scheduled for June, according to court records.
There’s some explaining for (Cal Poly) to do why they would hire someone who’s hurt someone in his past job.
Patrick Fisher, attorney for Aidan Dugan-Culton
Fresno city administration did not respond to a request for Lucero’s dates of employment or terms of separation. Lazier, the Cal Poly spokesman, told The Tribune that Lucero was hired by Cal Poly in March 2016.
“At the time of his hiring, an extensive pre-employment background check was done and the university was aware of his role in an officer-involved shooting in his prior employment with Fresno police — including that he was cleared of all wrongdoing,” Lazier wrote in an email Thursday.
On Thursday, Dugan-Culton’s attorney, Patrick Fisher, said that Cal Poly should not have hired an officer involved in the death of an unarmed civilian.
“It’s outrageous that Cal Poly PD would hire somebody who’s put the public at such a risk and who’s being sued for shooting and killing an unarmed man. This (shooting) was well-publicized,” Fisher said. “There’s some explaining for them to do why they would hire someone who’s hurt someone in his past job.”
The attorney added: “Now people in our community are at risk and being hurt.”