OAKLAND -- Attorneys for the family of a man who died during a scuffle with Oakland police in 2013 asked a federal judge on Monday to toss out a settlement brokered in January, arguing that not all of the man's seven siblings had agreed to the $450,000 payout.
The city had gone as far as cutting a check for the death of Hernan Jaramillo, who died outside his home in the Fruitvale District.
But a constellation of events -- a botched Skype conversation, language barriers and the release of a dramatic body camera video -- prompted a change in tack by Jaramillo's family.
The incident gained national notoriety when weeks after the settlement, this newspaper published the police body camera video. The footage showed Jaramillo yelling, "I can't breath" and "You're killing me," as police officers restrained him.
Officers had been called to Jaramillo's home by his sister, Ana Biocini, who told a 911 operator that she heard yelling in the home.
In their motion, attorneys for the family said that a malfunctioning internet connection during a January 8 settlement conference prevented all parties from agreeing to the settlement.
"Very soon after Rafael Jaramillo finished speaking, the internet connection in U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler's chambers suddenly failed, and the parties were not able to re-establish communication," attorney DeWitt Lacy, of the law offices of John Burris, wrote in court filings.
Lacy wrote that two of Jaramillo's siblings did not give final assent.
In its response, the city argued that the settlement was properly executed and that weeks later relatives decided to opt out.
"This has to do with a change of heart about a fair, court-brokered settlement," wrote Oakland Supervising Deputy City Attorney David Pereda.
Pereda intimated that it was the media attention from the video that caused Biocini to change her mind. Monday's court hearing was brief, with Biocini doing much of the speaking.
U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who did not make a ruling Monday, appeared skeptical of arguments by Lacy and Burris that there was a legal rationale to set aside the deal.
"I know of no authority to set aside the settlement," he said.
Henderson quizzed the lawyers about the Skype conversation in question, which was necessary because Jaramillo's relatives live in Miami and Columbia. A translator was also present, causing additional confusion, according to Lacy.
Biocini, who lived with Jaramillo at the time of his death, told Henderson and onlookers she wanted to take the matter to trial.
"Every single night I have dreams about my brother," she said in an interview outside of the courthouse. "He needs justice."
The judge didn't give a timetable for his decision, but Burris said that he expected a ruling in about a week.
According to Burris, if the motion is successful, his clients would seek to take the matter to trial.
The civil rights attorney acknowledged that pulling back a settlement was a tough ask, especially in front of Henderson.
"He's a deal, is a deal, is a deal, kind of guy," Burris said.
Contact Dan Lawton at 408-921-8695. Follow him at Twitter.com/dlawton