Neighbors of East Oakland resident Erik Salgado protesting days after Salgado was shot and killed by CHP officers near his home. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

This story was updated after publication to include comments from the attorneys for Salgado and Colombo’s families.

The California Highway Patrol has agreed to pay $7 million to settle a lawsuit brought against it by the families of a man and woman who were shot by three officers in East Oakland in 2020.

Erik Salgado and Brianna Colombo were in a stolen Dodge Charger on Cherry Street on the night of June 6 when a squad of plainclothes CHP officers attempted to stop them. According to CHP, Salgado struck two police vehicles and was driving recklessly. Officers Richard Henderson, Donald Saputa, and Eric Hulbert later told investigators they believed an officer was pinned under Salgado’s car so they unleashed a barrage of gunfire.

No officers were injured, but Salgado was struck by 16 rifle rounds and died at the scene. Colombo, who was in the passenger seat, was shot in the stomach, leg, and arm, and survived after undergoing surgery. The pair were unarmed.

The shooting ignited a firestorm of controversy. Coming just days after massive racial justice demonstrations swept Oakland and the entire nation, Salgado’s family and supporters protested the shooting and called on CHP to be transparent about what happened. Salgado and Colombo’s families also filed a civil rights lawsuit against CHP.

The Highway Patrol maintained silence about the shooting and the state Attorney General’s office tried to keep the names of the officers secret.

The CHP declined to comment on the lawsuit for this story.

Attorneys Ben Nisenbaum, John Burris, and Jim Chanin, represented Salgado and Colombo’s families.

Burris called the CHP officer’s behavior “inhumane and reckless” and said he and his colleagues plan to submit the case to District Attorney Pamela Price for criminal prosecution.

Nisenbaum said the officers panicked and overreacted to a situation in which Salgado’s car was “stuck between two stopped vehicles” and not a threat to them.

“This is particularly egregious because the sergeant at the scene, Richard Henderson, directed the shooting by the two other defendants in the case, Officer Hulbert and Officer Saputa, by yelling to ‘Shoot him!’ even though there was no one in the path of the vehicle driven by Mr. Salgado,” said Nisenbaum. “Sergeant Henderson then emptied the 30-round clip of his AR-15 style rifle.”

Chanin said the CHP officers’ actions violated normal practices law enforcement agencies should follow to properly investigate deadly uses of force.

“This was one of most outrageous Officer-involved shooting cases I have ever seen in my 44 years of practicing law,” said Chanin. “All of the CHP officers involved refused to cooperate with the Oakland Police Department investigation at the scene and left in a car together, thereby violating the most basic rule that officers at an officer-involved shooting should be segregated until they give a full statement to the investigating agency.”

Salgado and Colombo’s six-year-old daughter—who was not with them when the shooting happened—is the primary beneficiary of the settlement. According to court records, the money will be used to purchase a home for her to grow up in until she’s 18, after which she will obtain the title to the house. Another portion of the settlement will be used to purchase annuities that will be paid to her in future years, and more will be placed in a bank account for her grandfather, who is her legal guardian, to spend for her benefit.

The CHP has paid out other large settlements in recent years because of fatal shootings, chases, and other uses of force by its officers.

Earlier this year, CHP agreed to pay $24 million to the family of a man who was killed when multiple troopers piled on top of him and restrained him during a traffic stop. The payout is thought to be the largest police brutality settlement in state history.

Last year, then-District Attorney Nancy O’Malley issued a report finding that the CHP officers did not break the law when they shot into Salgado and Colombo’s car. But Salgado’s family and community groups including CURYJ have called on DA Pamela Price, who took office in January, to reconsider the case.

Henderson, one of the officers who shot Salgado, was involved in a similar fatal shooting in Orange County after he and another officer chased a pickup truck they believed was involved in a sideshow in Fullerton in July 2016. The truck’s driver, Pedro Villanueva, sped away but reached a dead-end street, at which point Henderson and his partner got out of their vehicle and aimed their firearms. The CHP officers claimed the truck sped at them so they opened fire, killing Villanueva and wounding a passenger.

The Orange County DA declined to press charges against Henderson and the other officer. Villanueva’s family and the passenger filed a lawsuit against CHP alleging the truck wasn’t a threat and the officers used unreasonable force. The case was settled in 2021 for an undisclosed sum.

The CHP did not answer questions from The Oaklandside regarding whether or not Henderson, Saputa, and Hulbert were disciplined for killing Salgado, or what their current assignments are.

“The officers fired their guns as if Salgado was a shooting gallery target,” said Burris. ‘The officers’ conduct was inhumane and a reckless disregard for human life for which they should be criminally prosecuted.”

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.