Mother of Stockton man who died in police custody demands justice

Local News

STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) — The mother of a man who died while in Stockton police custody is demanding the officers involved be fired from the force and charged. 

“I can’t begin to tell you the absolute devastating loss that I, as a mother, feel every single day. It’s a constant nightmare I wake up to every single day,” explained Karen Sutherland, the mother of Shayne Sutherland.

Karen Sutherland’s plea for accountability was heard outside the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office Tuesday. She told FOX40 that her family will never be the same. 

“My grandchildren at the cemetery talking to their dad at his headstone, telling them that they love him as they’re walking away,” she described.

Nearly one year after Shayne Sutherland died in police custody outside a convenience store on Trinity Parkway, the family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Stockton, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones and the officers involved. 

“Ronald Zalunardo and John Afanasiev, the Stockton police officers, have murdered my son by asphyxiation,” Karen Sutherland said. “They need to be fired from Stockton Police Department and never be allowed to work as a police officer again. And they also need to be charged my son’s murder.”

Police released edited body camera video of the incident last year when they responded to a call that the 29-year-old man had threatened to throw a wine bottle at a store employee. 

According to the family’s attorney, police first responded to Shayne Sutherland’s movements while in custody.

“He made what turned out to be a fatal mistake in a moment of panic. He stood up,” explained civil rights attorney James Desimone.

The video showed officers quickly take Shayne Sutherland to the ground and handcuff him. 

Desimone told FOX40 what happened next was excessive.

“And his words become more and more garbled as you can see him struggling for breath,” he said. “This went on for close to three minutes as these officers didn’t get up and they didn’t let up.”

The San Joaquin County coroner ruled Shayne Sutherland’s death an accident.

The family had a second autopsy done that concluded he died as a result of restraint asphyxiation. 

“If the city of Stockton won’t do their job and if the district attorney won’t do their job, we will do our job and get justice for this family,” Desimone said.

The family is suing for monetary compensation, but Karen Sutherland said she wants everyone involved in her son’s death to be held responsible. 

“Money is not going to bring my son back, but he does have two children, two small children that he’s no longer here,” she explained. “He was a hard worker, he provided for his family, and now he’s no longer here to do that.”

FOX40 reached out to the Stockton Police Department for a response to the lawsuit and was told they cannot comment on pending litigation, but they referred back to the body camera video.

A spokesperson with the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office released a statement when asked for comment Tuesday.

The matter of Shayne Sutherland’s death is an open and ongoing investigation. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office received a copy of Dr. Omalu’s findings and will be reviewing all evidence before rendering a decision.

Elisa Bubak, San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office Public Information Officer

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