Chain | Cohn | Stiles files civil rights lawsuit in police shooting that local paralyzed man

September 14, 2016 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: The following article was published in the May 20, 2016, edition of The Bakersfield Californian related to an excessive force lawsuit that was filed against the City of Bakersfield and two officers of the Bakersfield Police Department by the Civil Rights lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

 

Homeless man sues after police shooting

By Steven Mayer

The Bakersfield Californian

Adding to a long string of lawsuits being filed against local law enforcement, a 19-year-old man paralyzed from the waist down after being shot last year by a Bakersfield police officer who found him sleeping in his car is suing the officers involved and the City of Bakersfield.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Tuesday — exactly one year after the incident in question — claims the plaintiff, Gilberto Fajardo, “was asleep, unarmed, and did not pose a threat of death or serious bodily injury to anyone” on the evening of May 17, 2015, when he was approached in a church parking lot by Bakersfield Police Officers Lindy DeGeare and Juan Orozco.

“It’s very tragic,” said Fajardo’s attorney, Neil Gehlawat, of the Bakersfield law firm Chain Cohn Stiles. “We’re talking about a very young kid who is now paralyzed for the rest of his life.”

Fajardo was essentially homeless at the time. While he was often able to stay with siblings, that night he was left with only one option, sleeping in his car.

“He was there because he believed the safest place he could sleep was in a church parking lot,” Gehlawat said.

Bakersfield City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said Friday she was aware the lawsuit had been filed, but the city had not been served with it.

As soon as the city is served, the case will go to outside counsel, Gennaro said. She noted there will certainly be two sides to the story.

According to the timeline outlined in the complaint, the front driver’s-side window was rolled down about three inches when officers arrived at the church lot in the 600 block of Planz Road for a “check the welfare” call.

The complaint says Orozco and DeGeare began yelling profanities at the plaintiff, who awoke “startled and perplexed.”

Orozco broke off both the driver’s-side and passenger-side door handles, then “proceeded to bash in the front windshield of plaintiff’s vehicle after plaintiff turned on his vehicle,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit continues: “DeGeare then shot plaintiff multiple times while he was in the vehicle. One of her shots pierced plaintiff’s spine, causing him to become paralyzed instantly from the waist down.”

No longer in control of his body, the plaintiff’s foot collapsed on the accelerator, causing his vehicle to slam into a nearby van, it said.

According to the timeline, the two officers then dragged Fajardo from the vehicle and onto the pavement, jumped on him, kneed him and handcuffed him, causing further injuries.

The following July, a BPD Critical Incident Review Board cleared DeGeare in the shooting. She was returned to full duty.

According to a BPD investigation, the incident unfolded when DeGeare and Orozco came upon a vehicle backed into a parking stall surrounded by large vans on each side and across the parking access lane.

Fajardo was in the driver’s seat slumped over the steering wheel.

The vehicle was not running and the driver’s-side front window was lowered several inches, the BPD said.

There were no license plates on the vehicle; a license plate found in the dash returned to a different make and model vehicle, the department said. It was unclear if the vehicle was stolen.

Plaintiff’s attorneys say it was not, and Fajardo was not charged with auto theft.

According to the BPD’s timeline, officers woke Fajardo, identified themselves and asked him to step out of the vehicle.

“During their several minute conversation with Fajardo, the officers ordered him to exit the vehicle numerous times and he refused,” police said in a news release.

Fajardo rolled up his window, started the vehicle, revved the engine and rapidly accelerated out of the parking stall, police said.

DeGeare, who was on the driver’s side, lost sight of Orozco, who was on the passenger side, the BPD said.

“Believing her partner had been or was being run over, she fired her duty firearm at Fajardo, striking him,” police said in the release.

Fajardo hit a van that was parked across the parking access lane from where he was initially parked. Fajardo was taken to Kern Medical Center for treatment.

DeGeare and Orozco were not hurt. Adding insult to injury, Gehlawat said, Fajardo was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being the vehicle.

Should he be convicted in criminal court, it could bar the civil case from moving forward, Gehlawat said. Should Fajardo be acquitted, it could open the possibility of a malicious prosecution claim.

 

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If you or someone you know has been a victim of police misconduct, excessive force or had your civil rights violated,  call the Bakersfield police misconduct lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

Recently, the civil rights lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a wrongful death, civil rights case that garnered international media attention. The case of David Sal Silva, in which he was beaten to death by law enforcement officers, settled for $3.4 million. Click here to learn more about this case.

— Compiled by Marisol Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles joins the 42nd celebration of Delano’s Philippine Weekend

July 20, 2016 | 7:00 am


For the 42nd year, thousands of people from Kern County and visitors from around the world will come together in Delano to celebrate the rich art and history of the Philippines during the annual Philippine Weekend.

And the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is thrilled to support as a sponsor the array of cultural events and family-friendly entertainment lined up for attendees.

 

WEEKEND OF CULTURE 

Although most Philippine Weekend events take place the last weekend of July — July 29 to July 31 — many events begin early in the month. Among the popular annual events include:

  • Pageants: Delano hosts Mr. and Miss Philippine pageants, as well as a “Tiny Tots” pageant.
  • Street Fair: Vendors, food and entertainment will be showcased from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 28 on Main Street in Delano. It is organized by the Delano Chamber of Commerce.
  • Adobo Cook-Off: The popular competition featuring the staple Filipino dish takes place at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, July 29. Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation* attorney James Yoro — who is of Filipino descent — regularly serves as a judge each year.
  • Opening Ceremonies: This parade kicks off festivities that continue through the weekend.
  • Barrio Fiesta: The annual fiesta at Cecil Park brings together thousands of celebrators to enjoy food, vendors and entertainment.
  • Basketball Tournament: This event kicked off the first Philippine Weekend observation in 1974. The tournament, which draws players from around the state, continues today.
  • Much More: For a full schedule, click here or go to philippineweekend.org.

 

SPONSORSHIP

Philippine Weekend has served Kern County since 1974. It has grown from a basketball tournament started by local high school and college students to more than 10 cultural events, including a Barrio Fiesta that attracts up 7,000 people every year.

Philippine Weekend, which serves as a nonprofit organization, is dependent entirely on the voluntary work of local members of the community and sponsorships of local businesses.

Sponsorships, like that from Chain | Cohn | Stiles, help fund the annual Miss, Mister and Tiny Tots pageants, the popular Adobo cook-off, singing and dance contests, the grand parade, statewide invitational basketball tournament, Barrio Fiesta and other cultural entertainment. Sponsorships also help provide scholarships to graduating high school students.

“Monetary assistance will help sustain our celebration and cultural festival, which not only provides enrichment to our youth, but also allows us to share our culture with other cultures,” according to Philippine Weekend organizers.

Look for Chain | Cohn | Stiles in Philippine Weekend print media, website, in the pageant’s program book and weekend souvenir book, and acknowledgement throughout the week.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

A very important part of the Filipino history observed and celebrated during the Philippine Weekend is Jose Rizal, who would publish novels and essays that would affect the course of Philippine history. He was born on June 19, 1861 and was executed on December 30, 1896.

Jose Rizal’s novels and essays were critical of Spanish friars and the power of the Catholic Church. He wrote about equality and rights for Filipinos. His writings lead to him being prosecuted for inciting rebellion in Spain, which lead to his exile to Hong Kong.

In 1892, Rizal formed a group called La Liga Filipina that went about trying to gain rights and equality for Filipinos through the law; however, it was stopped by the Spanish government since he was considered an enemy to the state. Then in 1896, Rizal was arrested on his way to Cuba for being involved in a rebellion, charges that were not true. But in court, he was found guilty of these crimes and was sentenced to death.

But the death of Jose Rizal only gave strength to the Filipino cause as he was “a man whose beliefs in the Filipino cause were so strong that his death gave life to the hopes and dreams of Filipinos everywhere,” Philippine Weekend organizers said on the event website.

“He continues to be revered as a national hero and has had greater influence on our people than any other man,” according to event organizers.

— By Marisol Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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If you or someone you know if hurt in an accident or at work, call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, or visit the website chainlaw.com

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Anxious about the start of the school year? Follow these tips for a stress-free back-to-school

August 12, 2015 | 9:11 am


School starts on Aug. 19 this year for many Bakersfield and Kern County students, and along with it comes the usual back-to-school shopping — and the danger of fraud.

Parents will use credit cards and other means of payment that contain their personal information, which may expose them to fraud. But it’s not just the parents who are at risk. Each year, nearly 500,000 children under the age of 18 fall victim to identity theft, according to credit.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, with the help of KERO Channel 23 and credit.com, has provided safety tips below to help protect you and your children from becoming victims of fraud.

And if the thought of being taken advantage of financially leaves you anxious, in addition to the usual back-to-school jitters for students and parents, be sure to read the tips below on how to prevent and cope with anxiety.

Protect Against Fraud

The start of school and back-to-school shopping go hand-in-hand. In fact, Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently sponsored underprivileged children in the annual “Childspree” back-to-school shopping program.

Follow these tips below to make sure your shopping experience is a joyous one.

  • Do not give out a social security number and/or birth date without knowledge on how it is going to be used or disposed of.
  • Know who is going to see the information once it’s collected. Many organizations perform meticulous background checks on staff and volunteers. Others don’t. If in doubt, write, “information to come.”
  • Some doctor’s offices still ask for patient’s’ Social Security numbers. Unless it’s needed to bill insurance, skip it.
  • Students ages 18 to 24 face the highest risk of identity theft. They often live in dorms or share apartments where others can access their belongings. Before they head back to campus, equip your college students with the right tools and habits.
  • Shred pre-approved credit offers. Dumpster-diving is an epidemic on campuses because thieves know most students throw these offers away unopened.
  • Lock up important papers like student loan and enrollment documents so they won’t be left lying around where anyone could see them.
  • Use strong alphanumeric passwords with combinations of special characters and capitalization and update security software.
  • If your phone is lost, contact your provider immediately.

Back-to-School Anxiety

Starting a new school year can be exciting. It can also make students anxious.

Being a little anxious is normal at the start of a new school year; however, for some students, it can slowly grow over the course of a school year and can discourage students from attending and performing well in school.

Some students may shut down and withdraw socially, or keep asking for assurance. KERO Channel 23 has provided the following steps that parents can take to help their children become less anxious about going to school and starting a new school year.

  • Attend open house or orientation activities that allow children to see their classroom and meet their teachers. That removes some of the unknowns.
  • Establish a routine and stick to it. A predictable routine at home can be calming.
  • Discuss the positive aspects of going back to school, like seeing friends again and extracurricular activities.
  • Talk about your own experiences with anxiety and how you cope. Praise children when they face their fears and acknowledge those positive aspects.

— By Jessica Magee for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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Safety is of most importance to the Bakersfield personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. If you or someone you know has been injured due to the fault of another, contact the law firm at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

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OTHER MEDIA

Welcome our newest associate: Chad J.A. Boyles

April 29, 2014 | 10:55 am


The law firm of Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently welcomed its eighth attorney to serve Bakersfield and Kern County.

Chad J. A. Boyles, an associate with the firm, is focusing on personal injury and wrongful death cases. And like most of the attorneys at the law firm, Chad was born and raised in Bakersfield, and decided to serve in his hometown and the people of Kern County. He joins a team of attorneys who were raised on local soil, attended local schools, and after receiving a law school education, returned back home to serve.

Here’s a little more about Chad:

He graduated from Highland High School in 2002. He earned his bachelor’s degree with honors in political science from Cal State Bakersfield, where he was also a part of Pi Sigma Alpha, a national political science honor society. He then attended Whittier Law School where he served as Managing Editor of the Law Review, and had the honor of being published in the review. He graduated cum laude from Whittier in 2010.

After law school, Chad worked briefly in Pasadena before returning to Bakersfield and joining another local firm. For two years, he litigated state cases covering a wide variety of legal issues, including personal injury and civil rights. Chad has also provided advice and counseling to clients facing legal issues on a volunteer basis at Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc.

When he’s not working, Chad likes to cook, eat out at restaurants, and travel. He’s toured throughout the United States, studied abroad for a short time in France, and visited various other countries in Europe.

“I’m happy to be able to put my knowledge of our community to use in helping our clients,” Chad said.

If you have been seriously injured due to the negligent, reckless or intentional conduct of another, call the Bakersfield personal injury lawyers, including Chad, at 661-323-4000. Also, find Chad on our website, chainlaw.com.

UPDATE: Chad has been featured in the “People in Business” section of The Bakersfield Californian. To see the article, click HERE.

We’re the best, again! Thank you Kern County!

April 26, 2014 | 7:28 am


Thank you Kern County! You’ve chosen us as the best once again!

This morning, Bakersfield Life Magazine and The Bakersfield Californian unveiled the “Best of Kern County” winners – and we’re on top once again!

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been voted “Best Law Firm,” and David K. Cohn was chosen as a “favorite” in the “Best Lawyer” category. This is the second year in a row that we have been honored in these two categories. The “best law firm” and “best lawyer” categories were added to The Bakersfield Californian’s Readers’ Choice Poll two years ago, and we’ve been winner each year now.

The recognition would not be possible without all of you – the people of Kern County. Thank you for acknowledging the hard work our attorneys and staff put in every day. Thank you for voting us as your choice law firm and lawyer for 2014, and allowing us to serve Kern County for the last 80 years.

Our passion is to bring justice and protect the rights of local residents who have been seriously injured due to the negligent, reckless or intentional conduct of another. We also strive today to assist local residents in need of social security disability and workers’ compensation* cases.

The recognition and awards, simply, are icing on the cake.

So, once again, thank you for trusting us to stand for you. We’ve been named the best, and we will keep on working hard and fighting for you to continue to be the best.

Warm regards,

The staff and attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

Chain | Cohn | Stiles partners with city, homeless center in freeway litter cleanup project

April 16, 2014 | 10:00 am


It was Bakersfield’s Buck Owens who made the “Streets of Bakersfield” famous in the 1970s, through his iconic country music song. In recent years, however, those streets have become infamous for the litter that scatters the pavement. 

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we’re proud of our community, our city and our streets, and we wish to keep our city as clean and healthy as possible. 

This year, on our 80-year anniversary and as a gift to the city we’ve served during that time, we’ve sponsored the City of Bakersfield’s “Freeway Litter Cleanup Project.” Here’s how it works:

Our sponsorship dollars go to pay residents from the Bakersfield Homeless Center to clean up our portion of the newest Bakersfield freeway — the Westside Parkway. Our sponsored highway section is at Coffee Road, eastbound on the Parkway. (see the picture of our sign HERE).

The program is a win for everyone involved: it keeps our freeway clean, increases community pride, gives jobs to the homeless, and sponsorships keep costs down for  the city and homeless center.

The program — partnering the homeless center with the city, and local business — has been hailed nationwide by other county and city governments. 

Recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles received a letter from Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall thanking us for our participation.

“Working together we will best this blight, that for too long has marred the landscape in our city,” Hall wrote in the letter.

To learn more about the program, click on the following links:

Blogging for Justice

February 28, 2014 | 2:43 pm


Welcome to Blogging for Justice, a Chain | Cohn | Stiles web blog focusing on the law, our firm, and our involvement in the community.

First, a little about us: We’re Kern County’s leading plaintiffs’ personal injury law firm, and the oldest personal injury law firm in Bakersfield. Our attorneys have represented clients from all over the San Joaquin Valley and throughout California for 80 years, and in the process have recovered in excess of half a billion dollars on behalf of our clients. We concentrate our efforts on protecting the rights of individuals who have been seriously injured due to the negligent, reckless or intentional conduct of another.

At Blogging for Justice, you’ll be able to learn more about:

  • Tips and information on what to do if you ever find yourself in need of one of our lawyers.
  • News about our high-profile cases and results.
  • Our charitable work throughout our community.
  • Information about the firm’s various practice areas like car accidents, wrongful death cases, elder abuse cases, civil rights cases and oilfield accidents, among others.
  • Awards and recognitions of our lawyers and law firm.
  • Other relevant news and insight from throughout our area.

Thank you for reading. You can also join us for breaking news and information on our various social media sites:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Yelp | YouTube | Google+