Michael Jonathan Cortez was squatting in a “surrender position” with no weapon in his hands when an FBI agent burst into an Oakland smoke shop and fatally shot him in the chest, a new lawsuit filed by his parents claims.
Cortez, 31, bled to death before he could receive medical treatment after Officer Gail Paresa shot him in East Oakland in September 2021, according to the lawsuit filed by prominent Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris.
The FBI has alleged that Cortez attempted to flee and brandished a gun during the eight-second encounter with an officer 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 tracking Cortez because he had an arrest warrant against him from the FBI and Hayward, the FBI said. The FBI alleges that the agent not only identified himself, but was also wearing an armored vest that would have shown they were a law enforcement agent when they entered the store. However, the agency did not clarify what form that alleged identification took.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by Hilma and Charles Cortez alleges their son was shopping at the UU Smoke Shop when he was “executed without reasonable justification or cause.” Cortez’s friend was standing outside the store and Paresa yelled “get out of the way” before going inside with a gun drawn, the lawsuit alleges. Witnesses did not hear the agent identify himself as a law enforcement officer or give orders to Cortez, the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco alleges.
Cortez posed no “immediate threat” to Paresa or the community at large, the lawsuit alleges.
The FBI declined to comment on the lawsuit on Saturday. The agency has said its agent entered the store alone with a gun in hand and a dozen other federal agents nearby outside. The FBI alleges that Cortez tried to flee through the door the agent was using and crashed into the agent, who pushed Cortez back and shot him after Cortez drew a gun.
The lawsuit alleges that Cortez did not attempt to exit through the door, but instead attempted to “run to a safe area of the store when the officer entered the store.”
Burris said over the phone that he has been trying to get video of the incident from authorities since 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 of the murder, including video footage from inside the store. “You killed someone who bought beef jerky and Gatorade — someone who was my family, my blood,” Cortez’s sister Marilyn Cortez said at the protest.
Burris said he expected to obtain video through the court.
District court records show that Cortez was wanted on felony residential burglary and domestic violence arrest warrants stemming from an incident about a month before his death. According to an indictment, Hayward police suspected Cortez broke into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment on August 16 and strangled her before fleeing when he realized she had called 911.