LOS ANGELES (FOX 11 / CNS) - A law firm filed claims against the city of Los Angeles Wednesday on behalf of the children of a woman who was accidentally killed by LAPD gunfire while being held hostage by a knife-wielding criminal -- one of two civilians killed by misdirected police fire in a six-week period.
From Phil Shuman:
I can't remember who I first heard it from but I've always remembered this description, or critique if you will, of a police officers job.
''We give them a gun and a badge and tell them to go out there and be perfect.'' As we've seen over and over again, police are not perfect. Two times in a month, innocent bystanders were killed by police gunfire, police trying to protect the public.
We know about the Trader Joe's incident, we haven't heard as much about what happened in Van Nuys in June, when officers responding to a stabbing call confronted a man who grabbed a woman off the sidewalk and used her as a shield.
As you saw and heard on the dramatic body cam footage he was yelled at repeatedly to ''drop the knife'', he didn't.
A beanbag round was ineffective, and within seconds three officers opened fire, shooting 18 times, killing the man with the knife and also the woman he was holding in front of him, 49-year-old Elizabeth Tollison, the ''hostage." Her sons and her sons new attorneys were highly critical of police tactics at an emotional news conference this morning announcing a ''claim'' against the city, the first step in a lawsuit.
They say police shouted conflicting commands, they did not have a tactical plan, they never tried to deescalate the situation as training calls for and policy demands.
Further, training in a hostage situation calls for a single ''well placed'' shot to the head, clearly that didn't happen. Was their shooting ''in policy'' or even ''legal'' ? Investigators will decided that later, but from past experience it will be a ''clean shoot'' because the suspect was clearly threatening the life of the hostage.
It will probably result in re-training of the officers and later, a huge settlement out of court for the dead woman's family. No one is perfect, but if you have a badge and a gun the stakes are much higher.
The claim comes one day after Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore released dramatic body-camera footage of the June shooting in Van Nuys that resulted in the death of a woman who was being held hostage by a knife-wielding man, who also was killed.
"Because of a series of training violations, because of a series of actions which fell completely below the standard of their own training protocols, what we had was the death of a completely innocent person that was totally and utterly preventable,'' attorney Brian T. Dunn said Wednesday, as two of the victim's children stood nearby.
Moore said officers went to a homeless outreach center in the 6400 block of Tyrone Avenue around 1:10 p.m. June 16 in response to a report of a man with a knife assaulting a woman. After a tense standoff, officers fatally shot Guillermo Perez, 32, as he held a large serrated knife to the neck of Elizabeth Tollison, 49, Moore said.
"Tragically, the woman was also struck twice by gunfire,'' Moore said. She died at a hospital two days later.
On Tuesday, Moore displayed an edited ``critical briefing'' video that included footage from officers' body cameras showing their actions at the shooting scene.
According to Moore, officers had ordered Perez to drop his knife, but he refused, ultimately holding it to Tollison's neck. An officer had fired a beanbag shotgun during the confrontation, but it failed to stop Perez and the officers fired their handguns as the suspect pressed the knife into his hostage's neck, Moore said. Eighteen rounds were fired.
Moore said his department is reviewing a new ``40mm launcher'' that fires a larger and more powerful projectile than the current beanbag shotguns. The weapon is more accurate and effective up to a distance of 100 feet, he said.
The Cochran Firm, founded more than 40 years ago by the late Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., the leading `Dream Team' lawyer on the O.J. Simpson defense team, announced Tuesday that it would file wrongful death, negligence and assault and battery claims against the city on behalf of Tollison's three adult children. A lawsuit can be filed if the claims are rejected.
Dunn detailed what he said were several failings by the officers on the scene, including yelling conflicting commands to the suspect and, ultimately, opening fire when doing so put Tollison's life in jeopardy.
``You had three officers firing, and we have accounted for 18 total rounds. And during the sequence of firing, the suspect is in very close proximity to my clients' mother,'' Dunn said. ``It is illogical and inconceivable for an officer on the scene to not realize that she will certainly be shot if 18 rounds are fired, and they're fired from opposite directions.''
A spokesperson at the LAPD's Media Relations office said the department had no comment on the family's claim. The amount of damages sought was not disclosed.
About six weeks after the June 16 shooting, LAPD officers exchanged gunfire with a suspect who was fleeing into a Silver Lake Trader Joe's store on July 21, and the store's assistant manager was killed in the crossfire. Moore said 27-year-old Melyda Corado was killed by a police bullet.
According to the LAPD, two officers -- identified as Sinlen Tse and Sarah Winans -- fired a total of eight shots, one of which struck the suspect, 28-year-old Gene Evin Atkins, in the left arm. Another struck Corado, traveling through her arm and into her body, police said.
Atkins surrendered after a roughly three-hour hostage situation at the market. He has been charged with Corado's murder, under the legal theory that he set the circumstances in motion that ended with her death.
Moore said Tuesday his department is also reviewing any improvements it can make in its ``command and control'' training and procedures at crime scenes in the aftermath of these and other officer-involved shootings.