Modesto, CA – The Modesto police officer who fatally shot a man family members said had threatened his own mother has been fired and charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the incident.
The Modesto Police Department (MPD) announced on Thursday that MPD Officer Joseph Lamantia had violated the agency’s “policies, procedures, and training,” while responding to a report of a man who was making “vague threats” to his own mother on Dec. 29, 2020, KCRA reported.
The suspect, 29-year-old Trevor Seever, had been the subject of a safety bulletin earlier the same month, after he made a post on social media saying, “All I want for Christmas is another dead MPD cop,” according to The New York Times.
Modesto Police Interim Chief Brandon Gillespie said in a critical incident release that Seever had also posted, “A good cop is a dead cop.”
Seever’s sister called the MPD on Dec. 29, 2020, and told them her brother had purchased a firearm the night before, and that he had just sent a threatening text to their mother, according to the paper.
“He said that he’s walking over and just to watch what happens to us,” Seever’s sister said in a 911 recording. “He just texted my mom about a minute ago.”
Officer Lamantia, 35, was aware of the bulletin as he responded to the Modesto Church of the Brethren to intercept Seever, The New York Times reported.
Bodycam footage showed the officer as he pulled up near the church, parked his patrol car, and took off running towards a grassy area.
“Get on the ground!” he ordered, just prior to firing off multiple rounds.
Bodycam footage showed Officer Lamantia approaching the suspect, who was sitting against the outside wall of a building, initially complying with orders to put his hands up.
But as the officer was providing information about their location over the radio, the suspect suddenly dropped his right hand, the video showed.
“Show me your hands! Put your hands up!” Officer Lamantia ordered, just before firing several more rounds at Seever.
The officer held Seever at gunpoint and assured him they would get him help as he calmly provided updated location information over the radio, the video showed.
Due to the information provided in the call, the officers believed Seever was armed so they waited for a ballistic shield to be brought to the scene before they approached him and rendered emergency medical aid, Chief Gillespie said in the video release.
Seever was transported to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds.
Investigators determined he was not in possession of a weapon at the time of the officer-involved shooting, Chief Gillespie said.
Seever’s family organized a protest and demanded Officer Lamantia’s arrest in late February, KXTV reported.
“We just have to get justice for Trevor,” Seever’s mother, Darlene Ruiz, told the news outlet on the day of the protest.
“We miss him dearly,” she said. “It’s not fair that… we have to go on without him. We spend every day at a cemetery and it’s just not right.”
Ruiz claimed that Officer Lamantia “looked like he was in a video game going after Trevor,” and alleged her son “had no idea” about what was going on, KOVR reported.
“Trevor never resisted arrest and he would never resist arrest. There was no de-escalation,” she declared. “I do believe Lamantia is a threat to the city and I think he shoots first and there is no remorse, no nothing, no de-escalation.”
Ruiz alleged that her son would still be alive if a different officer had responded to the call, KOVR reported.
Critics noted Officer Lamantia, a 12-year MPD veteran, had been involved in three other deadly shootings prior to the confrontation with Seever, according to The Modesto Bee.
They were each found to be justified, The New York Post reported.
Chief Gillespie released a statement announcing Officer Lamantia’s termination on Thursday, according to KCRA.
“The actions of Officer Joseph Lamantia on December 29th, 2020, did not meet the high standards our community, our department, and I demand of our officers,” Chief Gillespie wrote. “The death of Trevor Seever is a tragedy for his family, friends, and our community.”
“The men and women of the Modesto Police Department work hard every day to build and maintain positive relationships,” he continued. “I understand Officer Lamantia’s actions have set us back. Our department is dedicated to serving the public and committed to rebuilding any trust we have lost.”
He said he accompanied the mayor and the district attorney to a personal meeting with Seever’s family ahead of announcing Officer Lamantia’s arrest in order to “advise them of the new developments and express our condolences,” KCRA reported.
“There was an incredible outpouring of emotion on behalf of the family members who’ve had a lot of pain over the last two and a half months,” the Seever family’s attorney, Robert Fores, told KCRA. “The family is deeply grateful to the city and to the county for doing the right thing with going forward with the decision to terminate Officer Lamantia’s appointment and to press charges.”
The now-former officer appeared in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Thursday afternoon, where he pleaded not guilty to the voluntary manslaughter charge, The Modesto Bee reported.
He was subsequently taken into custody and his bail was set at $100,000.
According to county jail records, Lamantia was no longer in custody as of late Thursday afternoon, The Modesto Bee reported.
He faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted.
Paul Goyette, the founder of the law firm representing Lamantia, said he strongly believes the incident “was a perfectly justifiable officer-involved shooting,” according to the paper.
Lamantia’s next court hearing is scheduled for June 17.