by Dave Waddell
posted Oct. 2
The father of Eddie Gabriel “Gabe” Sanchez, an armed robbery suspect shot to death by police officer Mark Bass in 2015, has sued Bass and the City of Chico on behalf of Sanchez’s teen-age son.
The wrongful death complaint was recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento by civil rights attorneys Stanley Goff of San Francisco and Fulvio Cajina of Oakland. In seeking unspecified damages, the complaint asserts violations of Sanchez’s son’s Fourth Amendment rights due to excessive police violence and of his 14th Amendment rights because of loss of the companionship of his father.
In a press release announcing the legal action, the Sanchez family noted that new details were disclosed about the killing in a ChicoSol investigative report published earlier this year. The family’s press statement asserts that “forensic evidence analysis” contradicts the story Bass told investigators.
“It is also apparent that DA Michael Ramsey’s report on the killing omitted pertinent eyewitness accounts and misrepresented one officer’s testimony, which led to the wrongful exoneration of Mark Bass,” says the release.
“The family of Gabe Sanchez wants justice for his unnecessary killing and the subsequent cover-up of police wrongdoing by Butte County DA Michael Ramsey. We want Mark Bass to face a jury trial for his actions and to be fired from the Chico Police Department, and California State Attorney [General] Rob Bonta to look into … [Ramsey’s] corruption.”
Ramsey did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit or about the family’s allegations of corruption and a “cover-up.”
Eddie Sanchez, a longtime Paradise resident, is the father of Gabe and grandfather of Gabriel Sanchez, 17, of Elk Grove. Gabriel, who was 10 years old when he lost his father, is a high school senior who plays saxophone in school bands and plans to major in civil engineering in college, his grandfather said. Because Gabriel is a minor, he is referred to as “G.I.S.E” in the litigation.
Besides Bass, David Bailey was also named as a defendant in the complaint. Both were detectives at the time of the killing and both were promoted to sergeant in recent years. Bailey, who had his handgun pointed at Gabe Sanchez when Bass fatally shot Sanchez twice in the left cheek, did not join in the shooting. Bailey told investigators he did not know where Sanchez was pointing the gun that both detectives claimed Sanchez was holding. Two non-police witnesses told investigators the fleeing Sanchez’s hands were empty, with one claiming police pulled a gun from Sanchez’s holster after he was shot down, according to investigative records obtained under a California Public Records Act request.
It was members of Sanchez’s family who had alerted Chico PD to his alleged involvement in two armed robberies — in an attempt, they said, to end his criminal activity and avoid the very thing that happened to him.
Interim Chico Police Chief Billy Aldridge told ChicoSol “the involved employees along with myself are not at liberty to discuss active litigation.” Aldridge referred inquiries to City Attorney Vince Ewing, who did not respond.
Eddie Sanchez, Gabe’s father, has operated a landscaping service in Paradise for more than 40 years. At a July public memorial in Chico for those killed by law enforcement officers in Butte County, Eddie discussed Gabe.
“It’s too emotional to talk about because he was my first son, and I wake up every morning and no doubt it’s in my head: ‘What happened here?’”
Eddie recalled first taking Gabe to work when he was about 6 years old, and Gabe pulling weeds and doing other little chores.
“And he grow up to go to work for me and help me out, and always was there for me,” Eddie said. “The bottom line is I miss my boy, with all my heart, every day.”
Sheryl Sanchez, Gabe’s stepmother, also spoke emotionally at the memorial, saying, “It’s really hard to go on with your life when you’ve lost someone like this.”
(video by Leslie Layton)
Bass claimed in a videotaped interview that Sanchez, while fleeing, turned and pointed his gun at the detective as they directly faced each other. Seth Stoughton, a national expert on police use of force, told ChicoSol that Sanchez’s wounds seemed to contradict Bass’ account. An investigation overseen by DA Ramsey never questioned Bass about any such contradiction nor about the conflicting accounts from multiple non-police eyewitnesses.
The press statement also notes that the Sanchez slaying “occurred under the leadership of the then Chico PD Chief Mike O’Brien, who also was police chief when Desmond Phillips and Tyler Rushing were killed [within four months of each other in 2017], also leading to wrongful death lawsuits.” O’Brien is now a member of the Chico City Council that makes decisions about defending and settling such lawsuits.
After various legal gambits, including a petition from the City that was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, the suit brought by the Rushing family has been ordered to trial in federal court. However, more than five years after Tyler’s death on July 23, 2017, a trial date has yet to be scheduled.
David Phillips, father of Desmond Phillips, allowed his lawsuit against the City to lapse after parting ways with prominent Oakland civil rights attorney John L. Burris, whose office filed the Phillips suit. David Phillips did not replace Burris with another attorney but instead took over the case himself and then missed a case filing deadline. David continues to call for murder charges against the officers who riddled his son’s body with bullets on March 17, 2017.
In 2019, the City of Chico paid $950,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the mother of Breanne Sharpe. The 19-year-old Sharpe was shot in the back of the head by a Chico police sergeant while fleeing in a vehicle in 2013.
Stephen Vest, the latest person killed by Chico police on Oct. 14, 2020, apparently had few living relatives and none close enough to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Stoughton, the national police expert, after viewing a body camera video of Vest’s killing, said excessive shots were fired by officer Tyler Johnson, who shot nine times. Vest, who held a knife and was about 12 feet away from Johnson when the gunfire began, was hit twice in the back and once in the back of the neck, among other wounds received while he fell or was down.
Dave Waddell is a contributing writer to ChicoSol and a journalist who is working on a book about Butte County law enforcement killings.