Slightly after midnight on Monday, police in Bakersfield, Calif., received a call concerning a man thought to be brandishing a weapon in a residential neighborhood.
Shortly after police arrived, 73-year-old Francisco Serna — who family members said was suffering from the early stages of dementia — walked out of his home and into his driveway. When Serna, who was unarmed, did not comply with officers’ orders to remove his hands from his jacket pocket, one officer fired seven shots at him, killing him.
During a canvass of the premises that lasted at least until the following afternoon, police did not find a firearm on or near Serna. Instead, they found a crucifix.
“During a search of Mr. Serna, a dark colored simulated woodgrain crucifix was recovered,” read a statement from the Bakersfield Police Department obtained by USA Today. “Mr. Serna was not armed at the time of the shooting. No firearm has been recovered.”
At a news conference on Tuesday night, Bakersfield Assistant Police Chief Lyle Martin identified the shooter as Officer Reagan Selman, who joined the force in July 2015.
This was the first time Selman had discharged his weapon in the line of duty.
The 911 call came from a household on the block where Serna resided. A woman who lived there arrived home just after midnight. She was unpacking the car when Serna approached her.
Serna asked why she was at her house, according to Martin, and then asked if he could get into the car. Throughout this conversation, Serna kept one hand in his pocket.
The woman noticed a black- or brown-handled object sticking out of his pocket that she took to be a gun. She rushed inside and told her boyfriend, who called the police.
Two voices appear on the 911 call, which was released by police.
First, a boy can be heard saying, “There’s a man outside my house with a gun.”
Then, his voice is replaced with a deeper one. That person told police that a “Mexican gentleman” in his late 60s outside their house was in possession of a revolver and was “brandishing it at women outside.”
When asked by the dispatcher about the gun, the man said, “It looked like a revolver.”
Two officers reached the house at about 12:40 a.m. and spoke with the couple. It appeared that Serna had reentered his own house at this time.
After a few moments, five more officers arrived. Meanwhile, Serna walked outside his house, prompting the woman to point and tell police, “That’s him.”
Serna walked toward the officers, who had taken cover. The officers allegedly told him to remove both his hands from his jacket and to stop walking toward them.
“As Mr. Serna got within 15 to 20 feet … Officer Selman fired seven rounds at Mr. Serna, striking him,” Martin said at the conference.
“Nothing that I’ve been told up to this point and nothing in the investigation up to this point indicates a lunging or threatening [of officers] or anything of that nature,” Martin said.
Speaking with ABC News Tuesday, Sgt. Gary Carruesco of the Bakersfield Police Department said officers at the scene were not wearing body cameras and there was no dashcam footage.
Martin said this was the second time the police had been called to the 7900 block of Silver Birch Avenue in a 24-hour period.
At about 4 p.m. Sunday, one of Serna’s neighbors reported that the 73-year-old was banging on his doors and windows. When the resident answered the door, Serna kept one hand in his jacket and “was attempting to pull this subject out of his residence with his other hand.”
“The resident felt that Mr. Serna had a firearm. However, he did not see one,” Martin said. “But by Mr. Serna’s body language, he surmised Mr. Serna had a firearm.”
Serna then left without incident — until police were called out again less than 24 hours later. It was not clear from Martin’s remarks Tuesday whether police responded to the first call regarding Serna that was placed Sunday evening.
At the news conference, Martin expressed sympathy for the family.
“I’d like to offer my condolences to the Serna family. This is a very tragic event. It is tragic when a family loses a family member at any time, but when you lose a father or a grandfather during the holiday season, that makes it that much worse,” Martin said at the press conference.
Martin was selected as Bakersfield chief of police on Dec. 6 and will assume the role on Wednesday morning.
According to Serna’s children, their father was not a gun owner, nor did he condone gun ownership.
“My dad did not own a gun. He was a 73-year-old retired grandpa, just living life,” Rogelio Serna told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “He should have been surrounded by family at old age, not surrounded by bullets.”
Serna told KBAK that his father was against firearms and “even voted for them to get off the streets.”
According to Rogelio Serna, his father showed signs of the early stages of dementia and experienced delusions. He said the elder Serna had trouble sleeping and would often take long walks late at night by himself, in an attempt to tire himself.
Serna told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday that police had previously visited his father’s home on at least two other occasions when he became confused and activated a medical alarm. Authorities did not confirm this.
For years, Francisco Serna had worked at a cotton gin in McFarland, Calif., located about 26 miles north of Bakersfield on Highway 99. He retired in the mid-2000s. He lived with his wife and one of his daughters, according to the Los Angeles Times.
All officers from the scene, including Officer Selman, are on administrative leave and will remain so pending an ongoing investigation, Martin said at the news conference.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at Serna’s home on Tuesday evening for a vigil. They carried candles, photographs of the man and signs reading, “Justice for Francisco Serna.”
The Bakersfield Californian described the crowd as “silent, respectful and sorrowful.”
There, Cyndi Imperial, a friend of the Sernas, read a statement from the family, which includes Serna’s wife of 52 years Rubia, his five adult children, 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“It is difficult to accept that our dad’s life ended so brutally, abruptly and with such excessive violence. We feel our dad was stolen from us at a time when our family should be celebrating the holidays, birthdays and making happy family memories,” Imperial read, according to the Bakersfield Californian. “Instead, our dad was murdered by BPD.”
She continued, “Our dad was treated like a criminal, and we feel he was left to die alone, without his family by his side. Our family was questioned and restricted from comforting our mother for about 14 hours, while BPD completed their investigation.”
Sarah Cosper, a vigil attendee, said she worried about her own family.
“Can’t our abuelos, or grandfathers, walk on the street without fear of being shot by police?” she asked.
As of early Wednesday morning, 907 people have been fatally shot by police in the U.S. in 2016, according to Fatal Force, The Washington Post’s database that collects data on police shootings.
Of those, at least 45 — which translates into 1 in 20 — were unarmed at the time. That number could be larger, though. Of the fatal shootings, details of 64 remain unknown.
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