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Family questions police account of black man's fatal shooting in Walmart parking lot

BARSTOW, Calif. -- Police in southern California are facing questions over their account of a man's fatal shooting in a car in a Walmart parking lot. The April 5 incident in Barstow left 26-year-old Diante Yarber dead. Witnesses told the Los Angeles Times Yarber was killed in a barrage of about 30 bullets.

In a press release posted on the San Bernardino County Sheriff's website, officials say Barstow Police responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle in the lot, a black Mustang. Officers said they believed the driver of the vehicle was wanted for questioning in a recent stolen car case. They have not said whether they knew the driver's identity or whether Yarber was the person wanted, according to the Times.

The officers were trying to pull over the Mustang when the driver "reversed the vehicle and struck one of the patrol cars," the statement says. When the driver "again accelerated towards officers" and struck a second patrol car, an officer opened fire, killing Yarber and wounding one of the three passengers in the Mustang. 

The wounded passenger, a 23-year-old woman, was airlifted to a trauma center with multiple gunshot wounds, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

The two male passengers exited the vehicle and one suffered minor injuries getting out of the car, police say. The other was uninjured.

According to the Times, a barrage of gunfire can be heard on a grainy cellphone video, but the video doesn't capture the full incident.

The press release lists Yarber as a suspect and Barstow police officers as victims. But Yarber's family and their lawyer, prominent civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt, are questioning the official account of events. Part of the video shows the Mustang moving slowly backward as officer fired.

"They don't have a justification for stopping this car. They saw a car full of black people in front of a Walmart and that was suspicious," Merritt told the paper. "I don't believe I have seen a more brutal shooting. They just began pouring bullets into the car in broad daylight. The car was barely rolling backward. You can walk faster than that."

In a Facebook post, Merritt said Yarber was "profiled, stalked and murdered" by the officers. He said Yarber was unarmed.

Yarber was reportedly the father of three girls, ages 9, 7 and 1. 

Dale Galipo, an attorney representing the wounded female passenger, told the paper she suffered "two gunshot wounds that while no longer life-threatening are life-altering."

Galipo is also representing the family of Stephon Clark, a man shot to death by Sacramento police last month in a case that's sparked national outrage.

Galipo said the shooting at the Walmart was "unjustified" and said "the police version of events contradicts information in the video and given by eyewitnesses."

The case is reportedly being investigated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. Barstow Police wouldn't comment to the Times other than to say they were cooperating with the investigation.

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