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Man shot by Pittsburg police during 2022 hotel standoff files federal lawsuit

Man shot by Pittsburg officer in 2022 files federal lawsuit
Man shot by Pittsburg officer in 2022 files federal lawsuit 03:21

An East Bay police department already under federal investigation was hit with a new lawsuit Tuesday that names one officer in particularly who is no stranger to legal trouble. 

Pittsburg police officers are accused of unnecessarily escalating a February 2022 confrontation with a man suffering from a mental crisis at a hotel and then shooting him. 

Though he lived to tell about it, Ashton Porter said during a Tuesday press conference that he's looking for accountability and police reform following the Feb. 24, 2022 shooting that still haunts him.

"I just wanted good officers there that could help me get through it," he said of the mental health crisis he had experienced while staying at a Hampton Inn & Suites. 

On the day of the shooting, hotel staff called 911 to report hearing screams for help and glass shattering while Porter was alone in his room. Simultaneously, his family had also called 911 seeking a wellness check for the father of six, who had abruptly returned to the Bay Area from Georgia, where he said he experienced racism while trying to build a new home in a gated community.

Officer body camera footage shows Porter stating through the door to mental health counselors, who initially appeared on scene, that he didn't feel safe and needed time to process what was happening.

"Instead of continuing to dialogue and resolve the situation without using force, police dismissed the mental health counselors from the scene and began drilling holes into the hotel room's wall in order to flood it with pepper spray and tear gas," said Oakland civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, who is representing Porter.

The noxious fumes forced Porter from the room. When he emerged holding a knife above his head, officers fired rubber bullets at Porter, who recoiled.

Immediately afterward, Porter was then shot in the arm and abdomen by Pittsburg Police Officer Ernesto Mejia-Orozco.

The former officer who pulled the trigger has been charged in connection with the scandal that sparked a federal investigation into the Pittsburg and Antioch police departments, with accusations ranging from illegal steroid distribution to benefits fraud to excessive force.

Mejia-Orozco also allegedly choked  32-year-old Humberto Martinez to death while in police custody in 2016, leading to a $7.3 million settlement with Martinez's family.

Pointer said the city of Pittsburg has a pattern of allowing officers to terrorize the community.

"(Mejia-Orozco) came to this situation, which was a wellness check, with blood already on his hands," Pointer said during the press conference. "He had already literally choked the life out of someone during a prior call for service. And yet a person who killed someone with their bare hands was trusted to act in the right and correct way while holding a gun in a situation that could have been resolved with further conversation."

According to Pointer, Mejia-Orozco told investigators he shot Porter multiple times because the man had "sprinted" toward him. However, Mejia-Orozco's body camera footage shows Porter fall after he was shot standing beside his hotel door.

"According to their reports, Mr. Porter was running, and he ran 25 feet down the hallway," said Pointer, noting that other officers on scene covered for Mejia-Orozco. "These are demonstrably, easily proven, flat-out lies."

Since the shooting and the month in jail that followed on charges of assaulting an officer that were later completely dropped, Porter said his family hasn't been the same.

"For myself, I'm just taking it one day at a time," Porter said. "This has been so much of a mental drain on me for the past two years."

Pointer said the lawsuit seeks to shine a spotlight on the critical issue of police response to mental health crises and the need for accountability and reform.

"We seek justice for Mr. Porter and aim to ensure that defendant Ernesto Mejia-Orozco is never again in a position to take anyone's life while wearing a badge and a gun," he said.

Officials from the city of Pittsburg and the Pittsburg Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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