By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
FRESNO – An Exeter man shot and paralyzed by an Exeter and Woodlake police officer was awarded $2.5 million in a federal civil rights lawsuit this month.
The settlement was reached on March 14 in the lawsuit filed by Adonis Serna, 19, of Exeter against Woodlake Police officer Oscar Robles, Exeter Police detective Kevin Phelps, and Tulare County Sheriff’s Detective Bari Molyneux. In his lawsuit filed in May 2018, Serna was suing for assault and battery for use of excessive force, violation of his civil rights for targeting a Hispanic male as being suspicious, negligence of the officers for not identifying themselves as police officers and negligence of the police departments for not properly supervising and training the officers. Neither police department commented on the case or settlement, which is standard operating procedure for law enforcement.
Serna, who was driving a car that had been reported stolen, was shot five times in the back after being confronted by officers on April 26, 2017 in Woodlake. The gunshots left him completely paralyzed from the neck down. According to Serna’s attorney, Douglas Hurt, the “amount was calculated by the fact that the medical expenses could well exceed 2 million dollars and Mr. Serna is paralyzed for the rest of his life.”
The shooting happened just after 3 p.m. when a Tulare County Sheriff’s depupty notified the Woodlake Police Department of a vehicle stolen out of the Porterville area being spotted in town. Officers Robles and Phelps responded separately and corralled the car on Sequoia Avenue behind Woodlake High School. As officers got out of the car to approach the stolen vehicle, Serna reportedly put the car in reverse and attempted to run over one of the officers and hit the officer’s vehicle. Both officers then opened fire into the vehicle striking Serna several times. Serna was taken to Kaweah Delta Medical Center before being airlifted to Regional Medical Center of San Jose.
Serna claimed that the two officers never identified themselves, were not in uniform, and did not activate overhead lights on the patrol cars. He also claimed he was borrowing the car from a family member and was unaware it had been reported stolen.
Neither of the officers were injured and both were placed on administrative leave by their respective agencies. Serna said Robles fired five times and Phelps once. Both officers returned to active duty within a few weeks. Robles, a four-year veteran of the Woodlake Police Department, was arrested by Sheriff’s detectives on Sept. 13 after a two-day investigation into a woman’s claims that the officer sexually assaulted her. On Sept. 17, Robles was charged with a dozen felonies related to sexual assaults in April of 2017 and January of 2018. Robles, who was named the department’s Officer of the Year in 2015, is charged with two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of sexual penetration by foreign object by means of threatening to use the authority of a public office, kidnap for oral copulation, assault with intent to commit oral copulation during the commission of a first degree burglary, sexual battery by restraint, false imprisonment, attempted oral copulation under the color of authority, dissuading a witness, and rape by threat to arrest. Each of the twelve counts is a felony. If convicted on all counts, Robles faces life in prison. Robles next court date is this Friday, March 29.
At the press conference, District Attorney Tim Ward said his office was looking into 20 pending cases in which Robles was involved. One of those cases was the officer involved shooting of Serna. Robles’ arrest undermined the officer’s testimony in the criminal case and supported Serna’s claims of excessive force in the civil lawsuit.
In Tulare County Superior Court, Serna was facing two felony counts of assaulting a police officer, one felony count of vehicle theft and one felony count of resisting arrest. The felony charges against Serna were dropped as part of the settlement. On March 15, Serna entered a plea of no contest for a misdemeanor possession of a stolen vehicle and a misdemeanor for resisting arrest. The judge sentenced Serna to two years of summary probation, meaning he won’t report to anyone, such as a Probation officers, but must not break the law or he will be charged with violating his probation. After serving two years of probation, Serna can request to have his misdemeanors removed from his permanent record.
The settlement will be held in a trust to cover Serna’s medical expenses. His paralysis prohibits him from taking care of himself.