Questions Surround Police Shooting of Immigrant - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Questions Surround Police Shooting of Immigrant

(Story created: 11/9/06)

He was a proud immigrant, an American citizen.

Then, he was shot to death in front of his entire family -- at the hands of a police officer.

Eight months later, the the Shelbyville officer who pulled the trigger is back on full duty.

But what really happened?

NewsChannel 5's Amy Rao investigates Fermin Estrada's death and the family's struggle for answers:

Questions have surrounded the death of Fermin Estrada from the very beginning. 

The same questions asked eight months ago still haunt oldest son William Estrada today. 

"I sit down and think about it, 'My God, why did it have to happen to him?" William says.

What happened that afternoon depends on who you ask. 

During a family barbeque, Fermin Estrada walked two friends around his own property.

"He was very proud of the land he had bought," William remembers.
 
A neighbor saw the three men and called 911.

Caller: It's a couple of Mexicans walking on the back of my property, and one of them has a gun shoved in his side.
Dispatcher: And was he on your property?
Caller: He was right on the property line.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained in-car police video from the scene.

You can hear officers arrive on scene and speak to the neighbor.

Police reports show Officer James Wilkerson then grabs his assault rifle and heads to the woods.

"Do you see anything up that way, Bruce?" Wilkerson is heard asking a fellow officer.

Witnesses and police both agree that Estrada fired three shots into the ground.

"In Mexico, celebration (sometimes includes) gunfire," William explains.

Here's where the stories differ about what led Officer Wilkerson to shoot.

Shelbyville police chief Austin Swing has one story.

"They were shouting at him they were police put the gun down and at the time he fired in their direction," Swing says.

But witnesses say Estrada never even had the chance to fire at police -- he didn't even know they were there. 

And the one piece of evidence that would clear things up and determine whether the officers identified themselves is missing.

On the tape released by police, the audio goes silent right before the shooting.
  
"No, no, there were no warnings, no," William Estrada says.

"At no time did we hear police, give any warning they were here," adds witness Rafael De La Paz.

"They didn't identify themselves before they shot," agrees witness Jose Martinez.

A frantic 911 call from a young nephew again shows the confusion and may support claims they didn't know the officers were there.

Nephew:  They just shot my uncle right now. 
Dispatcher:  Do you not see a police officer there?
Nephew:  They're not f**king police. The ones who shot my uncle, they're not policemen.

"How do we know the officers identified themselves?" Amy Rao asks the police chief.

"I know by them telling me, that's what I am going by," Swing answers.

A TBI report containing ballistics tests, witness statements and forensic evidence may explain which account is correct.

But that too is a mystery.
  
"I myself have not seen the TBI report," Swing says.

The Estrada family can't get the report.

Swing says he doesn't need to see it.  And the district attorney who has seen it won't comment either, but assured the chief the shooting is justified.

"He did inform me as far as the TBI report is concerned there is no wrongdoing found," the police chief adds.

"Unless we don't sue they will never know what happened or why," says the family's attorney, Charles Blatteis.

The Estrada children are now filing a wrongful death suit.
  
"We believe the state can't just orphan a family and walk away," Blatteis adds.

It's now William's struggle for justice, for his father and for the four siblings he must raise alone -- a struggle to understand why Officer Wilkerson had to pull the trigger. 

"I don't know how he's dealing with it," William says. "He should see how much pain he's caused."

City officials say Estrada was intoxicated, but that still doesn't answer the question whether the officers identified themselves.

Late Thursday, the Estrada's lawyers filed a wrongful death suit.

The family is asking for $25 million in compensation.

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