Widow's suit: Unarmed mentally ill husband shot in back
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California widow whose husband was suffering from a mental health crisis when she called a nonemergency number for help last year sued Culver City police Tuesday, alleging they shot her unarmed husband in the back as he was running from officers.
Adriana Medina filed her civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the fatal shooting of Guillermo Medina on Dec. 18 in the Los Angeles suburb.
Medina was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and hadn't taken his medication in a couple of weeks when he showed up at his home and pounded on the windows, his wife said at a news conference.
She purposely avoided calling 911 and dialed the main number of the police station in hopes of having a mental health intervention. She told police she did not believe her husband was going to hurt anyone, according to the lawsuit.
“That cry for help became a death sentence,” attorney V. James DeSimone said.
A police spokesperson would not comment on pending litigation but a press release issued after the shooting said officers responded to a domestic violence call involving a husband threatening his wife with a handgun.
“There was no report of domestic violence,” DeSimone said. “There was no report that he was threatening her with a handgun. She never saw a gun.”
The conflicting statements from both police and Medina’s wife, along with grainy video of the shooting, make it too difficult to determine if the shooting was justified, said Ed Obayashi, a deputy sheriff and adviser to the Plumas County sheriff who investigates use of force incidents for police in California and nationwide.
Recordings of the call to police and what dispatchers relayed to officers will be crucial in determining the threat they may have perceived, he said.
“The most important factor is whether there was an immediate threat posed to the officers," Obayashi said. “Assuming officers have been advised that there is a gun is a very relevant factor in determining if deadly force is justified.”
Guillermo Medina fled in a car when police arrived and then ran on foot after crashing into a median, police said in press release.
DeSimone presented a surveillance video from a building that showed Medina loping up to a utility pole and then dropping to his knees and rolling onto his back. Officers approached slowly and one appeared to handcuff him.
It appeared to take several minutes before first aid was rendered.
The coroner's office determined the cause of death was homicide, DeSimone said.
The shooting is being investigated by the state attorney general's office.
Adriana Medina said her husband was a good father who cooked for their children and coached them in youth soccer.
“The sudden loss of my husband has completely devastated my family and turned our life upside down,” she said. “I can't believe he was taken away from us when what he really needed was help.”