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Family sues Bakersfield police over officer's tickling of corpse

Suit: 'Tickle, tickle,' Bakersfield cop allegedly said as he touched feet of man killed in police shooting

The family of a man fatally shot by Bakersfield police in November has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the department, alleging, among other things, that an officer tickled the dead man’s feet at the coroner’s office.

In the suit, filed Tuesday in Kern County, the family claims that Ramiro James Villegas was unlawfully shot by officers and that his body was then “desecrated” at the Kern County coroner’s office by an officer who tickled his feet and touched his head while cracking jokes.

The officer at the center of the suit, Aaron Stringer, has been on administrative leave since the incident.

Stringer is accused of grabbing Villegas’ head and touching his feet as he lay dead on a gurney at the Kern Medical Center, according to the lawsuit. He reportedly told another officer he “loves playing with dead bodies,” then laughed.

The officer said, “Tickle, tickle” as he touched Villegas’ feet and then pulled on one of his toes, commenting that rigor mortis had not set in, the lawsuit alleges.

A trainee apparently was so disturbed by Stringer’s comments that she reported it to her superiors, the family’s attorneys said.

The family first filed a claim against the city in April, paving the way for Tuesday’s civil suit.

“It shows a degrading and despicable view toward human life,” said Ben Meiselas, who is representing the Villegas family with attorney Mark Geragos.

Bakersfield police spokesman Sgt. Joe Grubbs said the department has not been served with the lawsuit, so he couldn’t comment.

“Given that this is pending litigation, it’s very likely that we won’t have a comment once we have been served,” he said.

He has said an internal affairs investigation is underway.

The lawsuit alleges that Villegas’ killing is part of a pattern at the Bakersfield Police Department of shooting to kill young, unarmed Latino men.

Villegas, 22, was shot Nov. 13 after leading police on a pursuit and crashing into a light pole.

The lawsuit says that Villegas was driving home to take care of his mother when police tried to pull him over.

Police reported that Villegas reached for his waistband, Meiselas said. But the lawsuit includes what it says are excerpts from multiple witness accounts in the police report that state that Villegas had his hands up and did not provoke officers to shoot him. He was unarmed.

A coroner’s report shows Villegas was shocked with a Taser and shot five times, including in the head, leg and groin.

The lawsuit alleges that when Stringer tampered with the body, he eliminated the chance of an accurate autopsy and traumatized Villegas’ family.

Times staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

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