Michael Jonathan Cortez was crouched in a “surrender position” with no gun in his hand when an FBI agent stormed into an Oakland tobacco shop and shot him in the chest, according to a new lawsuit filed by his parents.
Cortez, 31, bled to death before receiving medical treatment after Agent Gail Paresa shot him in September 2021 in East Oakland, according to the lawsuit filed by prominent Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris.
The FBI alleged that Cortez attempted to flee and brandished a gun during the eight-second encounter with an agent in the 2500 block of Fruitvale Avenue. The agent was part of a federal task force tasked with executing federal and local warrants that had been surveilling Cortez because he had a warrant on him from the feds and Hayward, the FBI said. The FBI claims that the agent not only identified himself, but was also wearing an armored vest that would show he was a law enforcement officer when entering the store. The agency, however, did not make it clear what form this alleged identification took.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by Hilma and Charles Cortez claims their son was shopping at the UU Smoke Shop when he was “executed without cause or reasonable cause.” Cortez’s friend was standing outside the store and Paresa yelled “get out of the way” before entering with a gun drawn, the lawsuit claims. Witnesses did not hear the agent identify himself as a police officer or issue any commands to Cortez, the lawsuit in US District Court in San Francisco alleges.
Cortez posed no “imminent threat” to Paresa or the wider community, the lawsuit states.
On Saturday, the FBI declined to comment on the lawsuit. The agency said its agent walked into the store alone with a gun in his hand and a dozen other federal agents outside. The FBI claims that Cortez was trying to flee through the door the agent used and bumped into the agent, who pushed Cortez back and shot him after Cortez drew a gun.
The lawsuit alleges that Cortez was not trying to get out the door, but was “running to a secure area of the store when the agent entered the store.”
Burris said by phone that he is trying to get video of the incident from authorities shortly after the shooting, but so far they have refused to provide it. A month after the shooting, about 100 protesters marched from Oakland City Hall to the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building to demand that authorities release details about the murder, including video footage from inside the store. “You killed someone who was buying beef jerky and Gatorade – someone who was my family, my blood,” Cortez’s sister, Marilyn Cortez, said at the protest.
Burris said he hoped to get the video through the court process.
County court records show Cortez was wanted for residential burglary and domestic violence warrants stemming from an incident about a month before his death. According to a criminal complaint, Hayward police suspect Cortez broke into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment on Aug. 16 and choked her before fleeing when he realized she had called 911.
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