Lawsuit being filed against CHP, Atwater police claiming police brutality

ATWATER, Calif. (KFSN) — Two families are both reeling from the day that changed their lives forever.

On June 25th, Atwater couple Pam and Joe Juarez were killed in a crash on Santa Fe Avenue near Spaceport Entry in Atwater.

Authorities said 20-year-old King Vanga was driving a Lexus at a high rate of speed when he slammed into the back of their Honda.

The CHP also said Vanga was suspected of driving under the influence.

But on Friday, Vanga’s family joined civil rights attorney John Burris in denying that allegation.

“We had a situation where two people were killed horribly in an accident, and that the police then made that matter worse by condemning Mr. Vanga by indicating that he was under the influence of alcohol,” Burris said. “It was a lie a total lie. It was not true. Mr. Vanga does not drink at all.”

In a press conference at the Atwater City Hall, Burris announced that he was filing a claim against the Atwater Police Department and the California Highway Patrol for “lying in an official police report.”

The report shows officers could not conduct a field sobriety test because of Vanga’s injuries, but smelled alcohol and observed red, watery eyes.

One officer went on to state he believed Vanga was under the combined influence of alcohol and a Central Nervous System stimulant.

However, the Department of Justice issued a report stating Vanga’s blood sample contained zero percent alcohol.

In addition, on the night of the fatal crash, Burris is also claiming his client Vanga, a Stanford university student with no criminal history, was mistreated by officers.

“He was assaulted, he was kicked, he was punched, he was kneed, they used fists against him and looked as if he was being choked,” Burris said. “None of that was necessary because in fact, this was a person that needed medical attention, not criminal force to be used against him.”

We reached out to CHP and the Atwater Police Department, but they are not commenting due to the pending litigation but the victims’ family is speaking out.

“Every day is hard for us,” says Kathleen Juarez. “This is just another hard day for us but every day is hard.”

Family members of the Juarez’s were also at the press conference, holding signs that read “Justice for Pam and Joe.”

The couple was married for 38 years. They were parents to six and grandparents to 15.

Relatives say the press conference opens an unhealed wound.

“It is difficult to feel like the focus shifts away from what happened in the lives that were lost on to something else, but that’s why we are here,” Juarez said. “To show our support and not let their memories be forgotten.”

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