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Family of unarmed man killed by Anaheim police seeks $20 million

The family of an unarmed man killed by Anaheim police after a pursuit to Santa Ana and a lengthy standoff is seeking $20 million in damages for what they allege was an unjustified shooting in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Attorneys representing Brandon Lopez’s four children and his parents announced on Tuesday that they have filed a claim with the city of Anaheim accusing officers of using “excessive and unreasonable force” against the unarmed 34-year-old during the Sept. 28 shooting at a Santa Ana intersection.

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Santa Ana City Councilman Johnathon Ryan Hernandez has said Lopez, his cousin, was in the midst of a “mental crisis,” and has alleged that officers ignored the councilman and other family members’ efforts to intervene. Anaheim police officials, in a critical incident report and video released earlier this month, said the officers thought Lopez had a gun, though it actually turned out to be a water bottle inside a black case.

The claim – which serves as the precursor to a civil lawsuit – was announced during a news conference in front of the federal courthouse in Santa Ana by civil rights attorneys Dale Galipo and Vicki Sarmiento. The attorneys accused officers of doing nothing to de-escalate the standoff with Lopez, criticized them for stopping family members from helping and alleged that they escalated the situation by forcing Lopez out of a car and then shooting him within seconds.

“This is another unnecessary use of deadly force by law enforcement,” Galipo said. “The family is trying to get some justice for Brandon, but also they do not want to see this happen to someone else. At some point, this violence and unnecessary use of force has to stop.”

Anaheim Spokesman Mike Lyster said the city believes the officers who shot Lopez “acted responsibly with a reasonable fear of what was made to appear as a gun.”

“Any loss of life involving police is tragic and our thoughts go out to the family. But we disagree with how this incident is being portrayed,” Lyster said in a statement. “It was far more complex, involving someone wanted for armed robbery and domestic abuse, someone who recklessly fled and endangered the public and where there was every opportunity to do the right thing for all involved.”

Sarmiento said Lopez got into an argument with his girlfriend and took her car without her permission. The attorney said Lopez was likely scared to exit his vehicle during the standoff with police.

“The escalation of force in this case shows we need to do better,” Sarmiento said. “He was scared. Perhaps he was having an emotional breakdown at that moment. Instead of calling mental health professionals he is surrounded by armed police officers ready to shoot, which they did.”

According to the Anaheim Police Department’s critical incident report, Lopez led police on a high-speed pursuit after the car he was driving was reported stolen and officers learned he had three warrants out for his arrest, including one for armed robberies. The pursuit ended when the car Lopez was driving stalled in a construction zone near the 1200 block of West Santa Ana Boulevard.

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During the Tuesday news conference, Lopez’s father, Anthony Lopez, described ducking under police tape and trying to run to the vehicle Lopez was sitting in, only to be stopped by Santa Ana officers and placed in the back of a patrol car.

“I pleaded with them, I said ‘Let me talk to him,” Anthony Lopez said of his conversations with police. “All they did was cuss at me… I knew they were going to kill him, because that is the way they are.”

“I think I could have got him out,” the father added. “I really think I could have got him out.”

After several hours, officers threw a flash bang and released a “chemical agent” into the vehicle, forcing Lopez out of the car, the attorney said. Within seconds, the attorneys added, four members of an Anaheim SWAT team opened fire, after an officer yelled “Gun! Gun! Gun!”

No firearms were found near Lopez or inside the vehicle. According to the police report, the black object Lopez was holding was a small Guess bag with an empty, crumpled water bottle inside.

Councilman Hernandez has described Lopez as a man with a difficult past but a good heart who suffered from mental illness since he was 8 years old.

Galipo has been the driving force behind numerous civil rights lawsuits related to police killings in recent years. Recently, he represented parents who a jury earlier this year awarded $17 million after an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department shot their intellectually disabled son to death at a Costco in Corona.

Galipo has also filed lawsuits related to several high-profile police shootings in Anaheim, including the 2012 killing of Manuel Diaz, a shooting that helped ignite riots in the city, and which a jury later found to be excessive force, and a recent $2.69 million settlement for the family of Daniel Ramirez III, who was shot and killed while hiding in an Anaheim garage during a police standoff. DA officials had cleared the officers involved in both those shootings of any criminal wrongdoing.

Sarmiento has also handled high-profile cases, including a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the mother of Vanessa Marquez, an actress shot and killed by police who were conducting a welfare check at her South Pasadena home.

The attorneys said they are still looking into the Santa Ana Police Department’s role in the shooting and standoff. According to the Anaheim Police report, a Santa Ana officer at one point during the standoff reported seeing what he believed to be a gun in Lopez’s hand as he sat in the car.

An independent investigation of the Lopez killing is being conducted by the California Department of Justice, as is routine under a new state law for officer-involved shootings of unarmed individuals.


Source: Orange County Register

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