Police sued after man died of suicide following standoff

AP News
|
Posted: May 15, 2015 2:13 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The family of a man who killed himself after a shootout with authorities has sued the city of Albuquerque, its police department and two officers, claiming police unnecessarily escalated a 2012 standoff.

Attorneys for the estate of Santiago Chavez filed the wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court — the latest legal action involving people who were shot and killed by city officers.

Albuquerque recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to overhaul its police force amid more than 40 police shootings since 2010. A Justice Department report last year harshly criticized Albuquerque police for using excessive force against suspects battling mental illness.

Police say Chavez took his own life after a 15-hour standoff with officers that followed reports that he was tossing large rocks at motorists. Police later revealed that Chavez, 20, and a SWAT officer exchanged gunfire but no one was struck in that exchange.

Authorities fired tear gas into the home in an attempt to flush out Chavez, but he remained inside until he killed himself, police said.

Court documents say lapel video footage shows officers laughing and "making fun" of Chavez when they entered the home and found Chavez dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The lawsuit faults Albuquerque police for violating Chavez's constitutional rights and using unnecessary force in what was initially a low-level priority call about rock throwing.

"No force was warranted under the circumstances thus any force used was excessive and unlawful," the lawsuit said. It seeks an unspecified damages.

Celina Espinoza, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque police, did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

A day after the standoff, the city sent the grandmother of Chavez a letter saying she needed to replace the windows and doors, reconnect the power and repair stucco damage or a lien would be filed against the property where Chavez died.

Rob Perry, chief administrative officer for the city, said he didn't think taxpayers should have to foot the bill after someone barricades himself in a home for 15 hours and "threatens the community and puts officers' lives a risk."

___

Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras