By Howard Mintz
Posted: 04/03/2012 03:44:19 PM PDT

A federal jury Tuesday slapped the Gilroy Police Department with as much as $1.25 million in damages, finding that officers trampled on the constitutional rights of a combative man when they shot and killed him on Pacheco Pass in 2008.

After several days of deliberations, the San Jose jury found a Gilroy officer was negligent when he fatally wounded Gurmit Singh, who was discovered by police lying in the roadway after a violent conflict with members of his family. Singh, 33, allegedly attacked the arriving officers, but the jury nevertheless determined the shooting amounted to excessive force and a civil rights violation. The plaintiffs were represented by Andrew Schwartz from Casper Meadows Schwartz and Cook.

The jury found that because of his violent conduct toward police, Singh was 50 percent responsible for his own fate, which could slash the damage award by as much as half. But the city of Gilroy is now on the hook for the family’s legal fees, which may amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the three-year court battle.

Singh’s family sued after the city rejected their wrongful death claims, which alleged the shooting was not justified. The February 2008 shooting happened along Highway 152, where relatives left Singh on the side of the road after an angry confrontation with them.

Gilroy police officer Eustaquio “Paco” Rodriguez arrived to help Singh, but shot him in the stomach when Singh lunged at him. In court papers, Gilroy lawyers last week asked a judge to dismiss the case before the jury began deliberating, saying the shooting was justified because of Singh’s aggression and Rodriquez’s belief Singh was “attempting to tackle him.”

Gilroy city lawyers were not immediately available for comment, but in court documents they called the shooting “objectively reasonable.”

A grand jury cleared Rodriguez of any criminal wrongdoing after the incident.