California State University, San Bernardino sued over student shot to death by police

The campus of California State University, San Bernardino.
The campus of California State University, San Bernardino.
Courtesy California State University, San Bernardino

Parents of a mentally ill man who was shot to death during a struggle with police at California State University, San Bernardino, are suing for wrongful death.

The federal suit filed Tuesday also contends that Bartholomew Williams was the victim of negligence and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It seeks unspecified damages.

Williams, 38, was shot five times during a furious struggle with campus police on Dec. 8, according to city police who conducted an investigation.

Williams suffered from bipolar disorder, which can cause severe mood swings. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound graduate student was off of his medication and appeared to be irrational when he fought with three officers who went to a student housing complex to take him away for a mental evaluation, city police said.

His parents, Barbara and Paul Williams, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles against the state, the university and its police chief. The suit contends that campus police should have called for mental health officials, a police crisis-intervention team or Williams' friends or relatives to help defuse the confrontation.

Instead, officers "escalated the level of tension and violence" that led to an unreasonable use of force, the suit contends.

"You have a student who is registered as a disabled student," the parent' attorney, James DeSimone, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "The university has advance notice that he has special needs. To have him encountered with the use of force and police officers when it really was a mental health issue violates the Americans With Disabilities Act."

DeSimone said he hopes the lawsuit will prompt changes in how law-enforcement agencies handle encounters with mentally ill people.

It was premature for the university to comment on the lawsuit, spokesman Sid Robinson said.