LOS ANGELES (AP) — A 73-year-old man with dementia fatally shot by police had a crucifix — not a gun, as officers were led to believe, Bakersfield police said Wednesday.
A coroner found the plastic crucifix on Francisco Serna well after an officer fatally shot him near his home just after midnight Monday, Sgt. Gary Carruesco said.
It's unclear if a 911 caller who had reported a man with a gun may have mistaken the crucifix for a weapon, as Serna's family speculated.
Officer Reagan Selman fired at Serna seven times after the grandfather refused repeated commands to take his hand out of his pocket and stop walking toward police, incoming Bakersfield police Chief Lyle Martin said Tuesday.
In addition to the 911 caller, Martin said two people who had encountered Serna hours before the shooting thought he was armed.
Serna's family is calling his death murder. They say they want an independent investigation into the shooting and for the U.S. Justice Department to look into whether police violated Serna's civil rights.
"It's difficult to accept that our dad's life ended so brutally, abruptly and with such excessive violence," according to a family statement. "Our dad was treated like a criminal, and we feel like he was left to die alone without his family by his side."
Officer Selman, who had been on the force about 16 months, was placed on administrative leave.
Martin said it was an extremely difficult set of circumstances for an officer fearing a man with a gun. The police chief expressed his condolences.
"It's tragic when a family loses a family member at any time, but when you lose a father, a grandfather, during the holiday season, that makes it that much worse," Martin said.
The shooting came roughly 30 seconds after a woman who had encountered Serna pointed him out to police as he walked out of his house across the street and toward them, Martin said.
Serna's son, Rogelio Serna, posted on Facebook that his father had dementia and would go on small walks when he had trouble sleeping.
"Last night he took his last walk," he wrote.