OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 4: Lou, a cousin of Michael Jonathan Cortez, wears a mask honoring his late relative at a news conference attended by the family on Monday, October 4, 2021 in front of City Hall in Oakland, California Justice for Cortez demanded. Cortez was shot dead by an FBI agent on September 13 near the Patten neighborhood. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group)
Michael Jonathan Cortez crouched gun-free in a “surrendering position” when an FBI agent stormed into an Oakland smokehouse and fatally shot him in the chest, a new lawsuit from his parents alleges.
Cortez, 31, bled to death before he could receive medical attention after agent Gail Paresa shot him in East Oakland in September 2021, according to the lawsuit brought by prominent Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris.
The FBI has claimed Cortez attempted to flee and pulled a gun during an eight-second encounter with an agent at 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 monitoring Cortez for having a warrant out for him from the FBI and Hayward, the FBI said. The FBI alleges that the agent not only identified himself, but also wore an armored vest that would have shown he was a law enforcement officer when he entered the store. However, the agency did not make clear what form this alleged identification took.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by Hilma and Charles Cortez alleges that their son was shopping at the UU Smoke Shop when he was “executed without reasonable justification or cause.” Cortez’s friend was outside the store and Paresa yelled “Get out of the way” before entering, gun drawn, the lawsuit alleges. Witnesses did not hear the agent identify himself as a police officer or give Cortez any orders, the lawsuit in the US District Court in San Francisco alleges.
Cortez poses no “imminent threat” to Paresa or the community at large, the lawsuit states.
The FBI declined to comment on the lawsuit Saturday. The agency 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 attempted to escape through the door the agent was using and encountered the agent, who pushed Cortez back and then shot him after Cortez drew a gun.
The lawsuit alleges that Cortez did not attempt to go through the door but instead attempted to “run to a safe area of the store as the agent entered the store.”
Burris said over the phone that he had 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 Ronald V. Dellum’s Federal Building to demand that authorities release details about the killing, including video footage from the store. “You killed someone who was buying beef jerky and Gatorade – someone who was my family, my blood,” Cortez’ sister Marilyn Cortez said at the protest.
Burris said he expects to receive video of the court hearing.
Circuit court records show that Cortez was wanted for a felony count of home 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 home on Aug. 16 and choked her before fleeing when he realized she had called 911.