Suit: SFPD of­fi­cers not pre­pared to deal with men­tally ill

Fam­ily of schiz­o­phrenic man killed by po­lice in July ac­cuses city of neg­li­gence, bat­tery

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Hor­wath

The fam­ily of a 24-year-old man fa­tally shot by Santa Fe po­lice this sum­mer has filed a wrong­ful death law­suit claim­ing the shoot­ing ex­em­pli­fies the city’s fail­ure to prop­erly train its po­lice force in how to iden­tify and in­ter­act with peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness.

With the as­sis­tance of six lawyers from three dif­fer­ent law firms, Roseanne Lopez, the half-sis­ter of An­thony Be­navidez, filed the com­plaint Mon­day in state Dis­trict Court in Santa Fe as per­sonal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his es­tate. The com­plaint names the city as the de­fen­dant in a claim of bat­tery against Be­navidez and an­other count of neg­li­gence caus­ing bat­tery.

In ad­di­tion to seek­ing com­pen­satory da­m­ages for Be­navidez’s es­tate, the law­suit asks a judge to or­der the city to adopt new poli­cies with re­gard to

train­ing and mon­i­tor­ing po­lice of­fi­cers.

The law­suit says too few Santa Fe po­lice of­fi­cers are trained to “iden­tify and in­ter­act with cit­i­zens af­flicted by men­tal ill­ness who are un­able to com­ply with of­fi­cer com­mands through no fault of their own.

“As a re­sult, of­fi­cers an­tag­o­nize men­tally dis­abled sus­pects, need­lessly es­ca­lat­ing cit­i­zen/ of­fi­cer en­coun­ters into un­law­ful searches, seizures, and ar­rests in­stead of en­gag­ing in deesca­la­tion tech­niques,” the nine-page com­plaint says. “Then, af­ter cre­at­ing a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion for all, of­fi­cers de­ploy force, both lethal and not, un­nec­es­sar­ily.”

The death of Be­navidez on the morn­ing of July 19, af­ter two of­fi­cers fired 17 shots at him through an apart­ment win­dow, “ex­em­pli­fies every one of th­ese fail­ures,” the law­suit says. Be­navidez, who had schizophre­nia, posed no deadly threat to of­fi­cers who sur­rounded his apart­ment af­ter he stabbed his men­tal health case­worker and threw home­made ob­jects at po­lice through a win­dow, the law­suit says.

The court ac­tion, which asks for a judge to or­der the city to re­form a “cul­ture of of­fi­cers us­ing ex­ces­sive force,” comes amid a time of chang­ing lead­er­ship in the po­lice de­part­ment. Chief Pa­trick Gal­lagher re­cently an­nounced that he will take a job in Las Cruces months be­fore a new may­oral ad­min­is­tra­tion takes over af­ter the March mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions.

A state po­lice spokes­woman said this week the agency for­warded its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the shoot­ing to Dis­trict At­tor­ney Marco Serna for a de­ter­mi­na­tion as to whether the shoot­ing was jus­ti­fied un­der crim­i­nal law.

Greg Gu­rulé, Santa Fe po­lice spokesman, de­clined to com­ment Tues­day. City spokesman Matt Ross said, “We can’t com­ment on pend­ing or ac­tive lit­i­ga­tion.”

On Sun­day, re­ported that 67 of­fi­cers out of a 167-mem­ber force were cer­ti­fied af­ter a 2011 state law re­quir­ing the 40-hour cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion train­ing went into ef­fect. The ar­ti­cle also quoted State Po­lice Chief Pete Kas­se­tas as say­ing the state-man­dated two-hour train­ing course in cri­sis ne­go­ti­a­tion that of­fi­cers are re­quired to take once every two years is not enough.

The law­suit cites those same fig­ures, al­leg­ing the city knows “of­fi­cers need more than some two-hour course every two years in de-es­ca­la­tion and men­tal health train­ing, and yet they know­ingly fail to pro­vide ad­e­quate cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion train­ing.”

On Tues­day af­ter­noon, at a meet­ing of the Leg­isla­tive Fi­nance Com­mit­tee at the Round­house, Kas­se­tas told state law­mak­ers that the New Mex­ico Law En­force­ment Acad­emy has “changed that war­rior men­tal­ity in train­ing.”

The law­suit against the city of Santa Fe por­trays a starkly dif­fer­ent pic­ture of the city’s po­lice force.

Santa Fe po­lice com­man­ders on the scene “chose weapons over words, re­fus­ing to wait un­til dis­patched cri­sis ne­go­tia­tors could es­tab­lish com­mu­ni­ca­tions with An­thony,” the com­plaint states.

The law­suit asks a judge to is­sue an in­junc­tion re­quir­ing that all Santa Fe po­lice of­fi­cers be trained in cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion and to “rec­og­nize the signs of men­tal im­pair­ment, in­clud­ing men­tal dis­abil­ity and ill­ness, and train them how to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively with those in­di­vid­u­als.”

It also asks for an or­der that the po­lice de­part­ment re­vise its poli­cies to re­quire that all use of force by of­fi­cers re­ceives “mean­ing­ful re­view and pun­ish­ment if ex­ces­sive.”

The law­suit says that sec­onds be­fore fir­ing 16 shots from his hand­gun at Be­navidez, Of­fi­cer Jeremy Bis­agna “turned off his body cam­era, tam­per­ing with the best ev­i­dence of his ac­tions, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of his choice to take An­thony’s life.”

City of­fi­cials have not com­mented on whether Bis­agna in­ten­tion­ally turned off his cam­era. The po­lice de­part­ment ini­ti­ated an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into that mat­ter.

Fol­low­ing the shoot­ing, Bis­agna is cap­tured on an­other of­fi­cer’s body cam­era say­ing he thought Be­navidez was go­ing to shoot him — though no gun was found on Be­navidez.

The law­suit asks that a judge re­quire the city to train and su­per­vise of­fi­cers to record any such con­tact, and that of­fi­cers take poly­graph tests con­cern­ing un­recorded con­tact or risk ter­mi­na­tion.

It also asks for a judge to re­quire Santa Fe to pro­vide cen­tral­ized screen­ing or in­take ser­vices within 72 hours of con­tact with some­one ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness or men­tal ill­ness, as well as of­fer more med­i­cal ser­vices to such in­di­vid­u­als. The city of Santa Fe should be re­quired to pro­vide a rental sub­sidy hous­ing for ap­prox­i­mately 250 home­less peo­ple and mo­tel vouch­ers to as­sist those liv­ing on the streets tran­si­tion into rental hous­ing, the law­suit says.

Three at­tor­neys with the Al­bu­querque law firm Kennedy, Kennedy & Ives are rep­re­sent­ing the Be­navidez es­tate. The Kennedy, Kennedy & Ives firm in 2014 won $5 mil­lion set­tle­ment with the city of Al­bu­querque in a law­suit over the fa­tal Al­bu­querque po­lice shoot­ing of home­less camper James Boyd, who was also di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia, in a case that led to some of Duke City’s largest street protests in re­cent mem­ory.

Santa Fe at­tor­ney Slate Stern also is rep­re­sent­ing Be­navidez’s fam­ily. Stern’s per­sonal in­jury firm last month won a $165,000 set­tle­ment in a law­suit filed by a cou­ple who had an hours­long stand­off with a po­lice SWAT team af­ter an an­i­mal con­trol of­fi­cer falsely ac­cused one of the plain­tiffs of pulling a knife on the of­fi­cer.

Lawyers Rick Bar­rera and Kent Buck­ing­ham of the Buck­ing­ham Bar­rera Law Firm, based in Mid­land, Texas, are also rep­re­sent­ing Be­navidez’s es­tate in the law­suit.

Gre­gory Shaf­fer, who last month left his post as Santa Fe County at­tor­ney to take an ap­point­ment to the Dis­trict Court bench, is the judge as­signed to the case.

An­thony Be­navidez

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