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Family Of Drug Suspect Killed By Officers In Sunnyvale Hire Lawyer

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Authorities on the scene of a police shooting near North Mathilda Avenue and Ahwanee Avenue in Sunnyvale on September 4, 2013. (CBS)

Authorities on the scene of a police shooting near North Mathilda Avenue and Ahwanee Avenue in Sunnyvale on September 4, 2013. (CBS)

SUNNYVALE (CBS SF) — Family members of a Sunnyvale man shot and killed last week by six police officers have hired Oakland civil rights lawyer John Burris who on Wednesday described the shooting as “excessive” and “inexcusable.”

“The family has a right to be outraged by this,” Burris said.

The six law enforcement officers fired about 30 shots at Juan Ruelas, 34, who was hit multiple times in the chest, side and back while unarmed, Burris said.

A volley of about 15 shots was fired at Ruelas while he was in his truck and another 15 after he had exited the vehicle, Burris said.

“The unleashing of 30 shots is excessive,” Burris said. “It’s like the old John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde kind of shootings…It is inexcusable.”

Burris said he has an investigator working on the case and a civil suit may result, potentially on the basis that police violated Ruelas’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Ruelas died last Wednesday after an undercover drug operation by police in the parking lot of the Hobee’s restaurant in Sunnyvale at 800 W. Ahwanee Ave., Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Capt. Dave Pitts said.

Shortly after 2 p.m., members of the Santa Clara Police Department and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office looked on as an undercover officer bought a pound of methamphetamine from Ruelas by the man’s pickup truck, Pitts said.

Ruelas threatened the officer, said he had a gun and made a movement the officer interpreted as reaching for a gun and the six officers then opened fire, Pitts said.

The wounded man died later at a hospital, Pitts said. Police did not find a gun on Ruelas or in his truck, he said.

Five Santa Clara police detectives and one sheriff’s detective were among those using their firearms, Pitts said.

But James Bunker, Ruelas’ brother in law, said that the family thinks Ruelas was the victim of injustice and cannot believe he had anything to do with drugs.

Ruelas, who grew up in Sunnyvale and graduated from Fremont High School, was a good father to his fiancΘe’s two children and worked for years as a building demolition employee, said Bunker, 39, of Sunnyvale.

Ruelas would take his fiancΘe and kids to have annual family portraits taken each Mother’s Day and loved playing football in the street with the neighborhood kids, Bunker said.

“He had such a unique laugh,” Bunker said, after reviewing a video taken some time ago of Ruelas at quarterback during a game. “His laugh would make you laugh.”

The shooting happened only about a quarter of a mile from the house that Ruelas rented from the city of Sunnyvale and he was wearing a colored safety vest from work when he was shot, Bunker said.

Many family and friends from Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Washington state and Mexico plan to come to a rosary service set for Ruelas at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lima & Campagna Sunnyvale Mortuary, 1315 Hollenbeck Ave., in Sunnyvale, Bunker said.

Burris said that Ruelas’ lifestyle “was inconsistent with anyone involved in drug deals. That’s why the family is so surprised about this.”

The attorney claimed that Ruelas’ family also has complained that Sunnyvale police were rude to them in conversations about the shooting.

Pitts said that one of the Department of Public Safety’s lieutenants sat down with Ruelas’ family members to answer their questions and explain what occurred right after the shooting.

“The first day was hectic,” Pitts said. “The family obviously was upset.”

Officers from Santa Clara police’s Specialized Crimes Action Team and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration purchased methamphetamine from Ruelas several times while working undercover over a month’s time prior to the shooting, Pitts said.

The Department of Public Safety is running the probe into the shooting and will refer its findings in about a month to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Pitts said.

The district attorney’s office is the agency that makes final determinations about officer-involved shootings within the county, Pitts said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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