By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Attorneys for the family of a 25-year-old man killed a year ago by Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department’s Gang Suppression Unit officers have filed a $100 million federal lawsuit against the agency and the County of Sacramento.
The wrongful death lawsuit alleges deputies of the gang unit used excessive force in the Jan. 15, 2021, shooting of Kershawn Geyger. The attorneys for the deceased said the shooting was “wholly unnecessary.”
“Without any answers from the County of Sacramento or its sheriff’s department, the family of Kershawn Geyger now turns to the courts to seek justice for his death at the hands of the sheriff’s deputies,” Nathalie Meza Contreras, attorney for Mosley and Associates, told the OBSERVER on Jan. 10. “This is not a price tag. There’s no amount of money that will bring Kershawn back. But this man had one child and one on the way at the time of his death. We do want answers.”
The sheriff’s department from the outset said investigators were in pursuit of Geyger the night he died after he was allegedly seen on video firing shots in a parking lot among a crowd that included small children. The family’s attorneys in a written statement cited a “clear lack of transparency and accountability,” “little regard to the life and death” and “lack of remorse for the violent misconduct of deputies” by the sheriff’s department and county officials. Contreras said the sheriff’s department and the county are required to respond to the suit by Friday, Jan. 28.
The department released surveillance video showing that a fight was in progress when Geyger hoisted a weapon in the air, instigating “a major gunfight,” sheriff’s officials said.
Others in the parking lot fired shots, but gang unit officers tracked down the car Geyger was in with another passenger in tow, department officials stated.
That person was later identified as J.W. Geiger, Kershawn Geyger’s brother. (The members of the family confirmed with The OBSERVER that they spell their surname as “Geiger.”)
Officers made contact with the men while they were seated in the car outside of a Carmichael housing complex. At some point, a detective approached the vehicle and began shouting, “gun, gun, gun,” when he allegedly saw Geyger with a firearm.
In a video reenactment explaining department procedures that details the encounter, the sheriff’s office claims Geyger shot and injured the detective before being hit by gunfire. Geyger died at the scene.
“The suspect shot the detective [and] immediately exited the vehicle with his gun in hand while the detective returned fire,” Sgt. Rod Grassman, public information officer for the department, said in the 13-minute video. “The detective stumbled backward [and] fell on the ground near the rear of the suspect’s vehicle while continuing the gunfight.”
The family said the sheriff’s narrative does not add up. They said other witnesses could counter officials’ version. At the time of the incident, the sheriff’s department did not utilize body cameras.
“How do the police let somebody grab a gun when their hands are up, shoot, get out, and shoot some more?” Yaphette Geiger, Kershawn Geyger’s mother, said during a Zoom call Jan. 10.
Last February, the gang unit and North Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) began wearing the devices in response to community concerns.
Sheriff’s patrol vehicles are equipped with dashcams. But the detective and the deputy with him when they approached the two men were in unmarked cars that do not carry the cameras.
Geyger was a carpenter and electrician by trade, the family said. J.W. Geiger was arrested at the scene on charges unrelated to the shooting. He reportedly said that his brother’s hands were up when the detective approached on the driver’s side.
Grassman said gun shells were retrieved at the scene and that the shooting in the parking lot where the fight took place was “gang-related.” The injured 47-year-old detective had been with the sheriff’s department for 15 years.
“The narrative they (the sheriff’s department) have out there … I want them to show some proof of it,” Yaphette Geiger said. “I want some answers.”
Walter Mosley, an attorney for the family, said the injustice of deputies’ continued, uninterrupted work juxtaposed against the continued communal grief of and quest for answers in Geyger’s death cannot stand.
“A change must come,” he said.