A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the family of a woman who was shot dead in her home by police while experiencing a mental health crisis.
Melissa Perez’s deadly encounter with the San Antonio Police Department occurred after midnight on June 23. Sergeant Alfred Flores and officers Eleazar Alejandro and Nathaniel Villalobos were charged with the 46-year-old’s murder less than 24 hours later.
In their lawsuit against the city and the three officers, Perez’s family pointed to the San Antonio Police Department’s “formal and informal policies” as the “moving force” behind her death — specifically its mental health policies, CNN reported.
The suit also accuses the department of “[creating] a culture of tolerance for the inappropriate and unconstitutional use of excessive force” through a “consistent failure to discipline its officers”.
The family is seeking compensation “in proportion to the damage caused”.
The suit also calls on the department and the city to “address the improvements that need to be made, then do the hard work necessary to ensure that Melissa Perez is the last person in San Antonio to be wrongfully the police have been killed”.
City officials responded to the lawsuit in a statement saying they would “seek a prompt resolution through the judicial system.”
Mr. Flores, 45; Mr. Alejandro, 28; and Mr. Villalobos, 27, were all suspended without pay by the police after the shooting. They were released from prison on $100,000 bail ahead of a preliminary hearing scheduled for July 25.
The three officers’ confrontation with Perez began when they responded to a report of a woman allegedly cutting wires to a fire alarm system at an apartment complex in the city.
After initially talking to officers, Perez ran to her apartment and locked the door, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told a news conference last month.
Bodycam footage released by the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) appeared to show the officers trying to talk to Perez through a window at the back of the apartment and urging her to come out.
The footage shows her telling the officers that they don’t have a warrant. “You will be shot”, you hear an officer say at one point.
A cop appears to be trying to open a window. Perez threw a candlestick and then swung a hammer that hit the window, breaking it, Chief McManus said.
An officer then opened fire, but it appeared that Perez had not been shot.
Seconds later, “Perez moved to the window again while still holding the hammer, and all three officers opened fire,” the police chief said.
More than a dozen shots can be heard on the video. According to Chief McManus, Perez was hit at least twice. She died on the spot.
“It looked like Ms. Perez was having a mental health crisis,” said Chief McManus.
“The actions of the shooting officers were inconsistent with SAPD policy and training, and they put themselves in a situation where they used deadly force, which was not reasonable given all the circumstances as we now understand them,” he added please.
Mr. Flores was a 14-year veteran of the department, while the other two officers had been on the force for five and two years, respectively.
Investigations are ongoing by the Internal Affairs and Civil Rights Divisions of the SAPD and the Civil Rights Division of the Bexar County District Attorney.
“We have always been a pro-police family. This breaks my heart. I used to rely on the police to protect me and now I don’t know who to trust. We cannot express how hurt we are,” Alexis Tova, Perez’s daughter, told ABC News.
A warrant for the officers’ arrest states that Perez “posed no imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death when she was shot because the defendants had a wall, a window blocked by a television, and a locked door between them.”
A statement from the San Antonio Police Officers’ Association to The New York Times expressed its “deepest condolences” to the victim’s family.
“At this time, this is an active investigation and we cannot discuss the matter further until the investigation is complete and legal proceedings are underway,” the statement said.