Bystander shot by Goshen police settles lawsuit with city

In this April 5, 2017, file photo, a crime scene investigator walks past an SUV that was driven by Michael Alcaraz, who was shot dead during a gun battle by Goshen police in the parking lot of Double D’s Bar and Grill. A bystander, Fernando Cuevas, was shot and seriously injured by a Goshen officer. Cuevas has settled a lawsuit against the city out of court.

GOSHEN — A bystander who was shot by Goshen police while they pursued an armed suspect in the spring of 2017 has settled his lawsuit with the city.

During their meeting Monday afternoon, Goshen Board of Public Works and Safety members were informed by city attorney Larry Barkes that the city has settled a lawsuit brought by the bystander, Fernando Cuevas.

Cuevas, who was 68 at the time of the incident, initiated the lawsuit against the city back in late November of 2017 in response to his reportedly being paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the police-involved shooting.

“This matter was pending in federal court. It has been settled with the city agreeing to pay their (insurance) deductible, which is $10,000,” Barkes said of the settlement agreement. “And the settlement was well within our insurance policy limits. So all we need to approve is paying the $10,000 deductible.”

The board’s members agreed, and the $10,000 payment was approved unanimously.

THE INCIDENT

Cuevas’ case began with 19-year-old Bristol man Michael Alcaraz, who at around 9:30 a.m. April 5, 2017, kicked off a morning of mayhem when he attempted to carjack three women on the city’s southeast side.

Armed with a shotgun and a backpack containing 40 live rounds of shotgun ammunition, Alcaraz stopped his Dodge Durango behind other vehicles at the intersection of C.R. 38 and U.S. 33 for a red light at around 9:20 a.m., according to police reports at the time.

Witnesses reported seeing Alcaraz leave his Durango and approach a woman in the driver’s seat of a stopped vehicle. He pointed the shotgun at her and then tried to enter her vehicle through the passenger side door, police said. The light turned green and the woman sped away. While she sped away, Alcaraz fired a shot at the rear of her vehicle. The woman escaped unharmed.

Alcaraz then got back into his Durango and drove south on C.R. 38. At one point, another driver was forced off the road to avoid a head-on collision with Alcaraz’s vehicle. Alcaraz then followed another woman into the parking lot of the BP gas station at the corner of C.R. 38 and U.S. 33.

As with the previous woman, Alcaraz reportedly pointed the shotgun at her, this time demanding the keys to the vehicle. The woman fled into the convenience store unharmed, as gas station employees called police. At that time, Alcaraz rounded the BP convenience store building and pounded on the windows, police said. He began to leave the property, but not before approaching a third vehicle driven by a woman. He drew his gun and demanded access to her vehicle. During the altercation, Alcaraz reportedly forgot to put the Durango in park. His vehicle began to roll away, providing time for the woman to flee the scene.

Officers were dispatched to the area within minutes after receiving the initial 911 calls. Among them were Goshen officers Sgt. Gregory Stuart Smith, Ptl. Todd A. Shidler and Ptl. Coty R. Brown.

While driving his patrol car south on U.S. 33, Smith reported seeing a vehicle matching the description of Alcaraz’s Durango make a U-turn in the middle of traffic on U.S. 33. As Alcaraz drove closer, he leveled the barrel of his shotgun at Smith and fired a shot. Smith, uninjured, turned his vehicle around and pursued Alcaraz north on U.S. 33 while notifying other officers of his location.

Alcaraz then led Smith in a pursuit northwest on U.S. 33, slowing his vehicle and even stopping at one point.

As he reached the entrance of Double D’s Bar & Grill, 827 Lincolnway East, Alcaraz pulled his vehicle into the parking lot, exited the Durango and ran around the north side of the building, all while armed with the shotgun, police said. Shidler and Brown pursued Alcaraz, and Smith proceeded around the rear of the building in an attempt to prevent him from fleeing toward the residential area behind the bar. Alcaraz then reappeared from behind the bar, and police said he fired at least two shots toward the officers. Shidler and Brown returned fire, and Alcaraz was fatally injured.

Smith, hearing the gunfire, ran to the back of the bar, at which time he reported seeing a person, later identified as Cuevas, in the open door of a minivan behind the building facing away from him and toward where the sounds of gunfire could be heard.

Believing the person to be a hostile, Smith reportedly fired two shots at Cuevas, who was collecting bottles with the permission of the business owner. Cuevas was shot in the back of his shoulder, and would later report being paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the incident.

At a press conference in late June of 2017, Elkhart County Prosecutor Vickie Becker announced there would be no criminal charges filed in connection to the shooting, saying officers Smith, Shidler and Brown were justified in using lethal force to stop Alcaraz.

“In this situation, it had to be deadly force, as that was exactly what Michael Alcaraz was using at the time,” Becker said of the officers’ actions. “We will never know what provoked it. What we do know is it is inexcusable. We cannot permit this kind of violence in our community, and we certainly cannot condone it.”

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.

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