A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of a mentally ill Whittier man killed by sheriff’s deputies last fall alleges that they should have put the victim on a psychiatric hold instead of shooting him in front of his family.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles federal court on Friday, alleges that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles County Psychiatric Emergency Response Team failed to place Marco Vazquez Jr. on a mental health hold when they had the chance after the family called for help on the evening of Oct. 6.
Sheriff’s officials said Vazquez was shot only after threatening deputies with a knife.
“First, we want to extend our condolences to the Vazquez family,” the department said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “Tragically, Mr. Marco Vazquez Jr., who is at the center of this lawsuit, advanced towards our deputies with a knife. Again, at this time, we cannot comment any further on this case as it remains under investigation and pending litigation.”
According to the complaint, the LASD had been aware prior to the day of the shooting that the 37-year-old victim had mental health problems. Specifically, a family attorney said, Vazquez had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Shortly after LASD and the psychiatric team left the family home on Rexall Avenue after the first two-hour visit, Vazquez told his family that he was suicidal, and the man’s daughter again dialed 911, plaintiffs’ attorney Luis Carrillo told reporters.
This time, only sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene and within seconds after their arrival to the family home, Vazquez was shot 10 times and killed in front of his family with “deliberate indifference,” the complaint alleges.
At a news conference in downtown Los Angeles, Christopher Vasquez said his brother’s death could have been prevented.
“There’s bullets that are made of rubber, there are stun guns,” he said. “There are other things that could have been done to prevent my brother’s death. It’s not fair that we have to be here and show our mourning and our sorrow in front of live cameras because no one should ever have to go through this.”
Defendants include Los Angeles County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, and other county employees. The suit seeks a jury trial and unspecified compensatory damages.
“The family wants these officers fired — and if they’re not fired they should be retrained so they don’t go out into the community and commit a senseless killing again,” Carrillo said. “Without even giving him a chance, they shot and killed him. Within seconds. And shot him 10 times.”
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