A wrongful death lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that Los Angeles Police Department officers used excessive and deadly force by using a stun gun on an unarmed burglary suspect who had already surrendered, then stood by without rendering aid when he went into cardiac arrest and died last summer.
Daniel Rivera, 37, was pronounced dead Aug. 14 by paramedics, about a half hour after police responded to a call that a man was seen trying to break into homes in an Arleta neighborhood, according to the suit filed on behalf of his family in Los Angeles federal court.
The plaintiffs allege that when police arrived, Rivera climbed over a fence and lay face-down and motionless in a nearby ravine, his hands behind his head in a gesture of surrender.
However, according to a news release issued by the LAPD after his death, Rivera was seen by witnesses trespassing on their property and apparently talking to himself before scaling a chain-link fence and dropping down into a reservoir. A struggle ensued when officers went to handcuff him, according to police.
An LAPD spokesman said Tuesday that according to policy, the department does not comment on pending litigation.
Plaintiffs’ attorney V. James DeSimone alleges that despite Rivera’s lack of resistance, three LAPD officers jumped on top of him, with one applying his full body weight by kneeling on his back, while two others handcuffed him.
According to the lawsuit, a fourth officer shocked Rivera four times with a Taser, causing his body to convulse and tense up. Police body camera video appears to show an officer grab the back of Rivera’s neck and shove his face into the ground, according to the lawsuit.
DeSimone further alleges that when Rivera called out for help, saying he did not hurt anyone, an officer pinned him down so his legs could be hobbled, an event also apparently captured on body camera video.
The LAPD officers continued to push on Rivera’s back while he was face-down on his stomach, and did nothing to help him as Rivera’s body convulsed in medical distress, the suit alleges.
The officers “kept the unresisting Rivera pushed down in a prone position, known to interfere with breathing, after he was handcuffed and hobbled,” according to the family’s attorney.
The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages from the city, the police department and four of its officers, whose identities have not been released.
“There was absolutely no reason to tase Mr. Rivera, who surrendered and was obviously incapacitated,” DeSimone said. “After torturing Mr. Rivera, the officers hobbled his legs and pressed him face-down into the ground. This is classic positional asphyxiation which often, as here, causes death.”
The attorney said the Los Angeles County coroner’s office “confirmed one of the causes of death was cardiopulmonary arrest following prone physical restraint with electromuscular disruption.”
According to the lawsuit, Rivera was surrendering, posed no threat, and the officers’ alleged unnecessary use of force — and failure to render immediate medical assistance — is what led to his death.
The LAPD said in its statement last year that the officers can be heard on body-cam talking to Rivera, who appeared to be losing consciousness, as they waited for paramedics to arrive.
“The city of Los Angeles and the LAPD have a history of encouraging and tolerating excessive, unnecessary and deadly force,” DeSimone alleged. “By failing to acknowledge their wrongdoings and appropriately investigate and impose discipline on the officers, the city of Los Angeles and the police department are essentially condoning a culture of brutal behavior.”
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