Michael Jonathan Cortez was crouched in a “surrendering 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 agent Gail Paresa shot him in September 2021 in East Oakland, according to the lawsuit filed by prominent Oakland civil rights lawyer John Burris.
The FBI has alleged that Cortez tried to flee and brandished a gun during the eight-second encounter with an agent in the 2500 block of Fruitvale Avenue. The agent was part of a federal task force charged with executing federal and local warrants who had been surveilling Cortez because he had a warrant from the feds and Hayward against him, the FBI said. The FBI claims the agent not only identified themself but was wearing an armored vest that would have shown they were a law enforcement agent when entering the store. The agency, however, did not make clear what form that purported identification took.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by Hilma and Charles Cortez claims that their son was shopping in U-U Smoke Shop when he was “executed without reasonable justification or cause.” Cortez’s friend was outside the shop and Paresa yelled “get out of the way” before entering with a gun drawn, the lawsuit claims. Witnesses did not hear the agent identify themself a law enforcement officer or issue any commands to Cortez, the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco alleges.
Cortez posed no “imminent threat” to Paresa or the community at large, the lawsuit claims.
The FBI on Saturday declined to comment on the lawsuit. The agency has said its agent entered the shop alone with a gun in hand and a dozen other federal agents nearby outside. The FBI claims Cortez was trying to flee through the door the agent used and bumped into the agent, who pushed Cortez back then shot him after Cortez drew a gun.
The lawsuit alleges Cortez was not trying to exit through the door, but instead was seeking “to run to a safe area of the store as the agent entered the shop.”
Burris said by 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 about the killing, including video footage from inside the store. “You killed somebody who was buying beef jerky and Gatorade — somebody who was my family, my blood,” Cortez’s sister Marilyn Cortez said at the protest.
Burris said he expected to obtain video via the court process.
County court records show Cortez was wanted on felony residential burglary and domestic violence warrants stemming from an incident about a month before his death. According to a criminal complaint, Hayward police suspect Cortez broke into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment on Aug. 16 and choked her before fleeing when he realized she had called 911.