Family of mentally ill Whittier man fatally shot by sheriff's deputies files federal suit against LA County

SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. (KABC) -- A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of a mentally ill Whittier man killed by Los Angeles County 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 loved ones.

The suit, filed in L.A. federal court on Feb. 14, 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.

Attorneys representing his family, Luis and Michael Carrillo, said during a press conference Tuesday morning that Vazquez was denied medical care and deputies used excessive force when they shot Vazquez 10 times.

"He was my best friend ... they've taken him away from me I just want justice," said Vazquez's mother, Leticia Mosqueda Vazquez.

The family said they would like to see the deputies involved in the shooting fired or trained.

However, sheriff's officials said Vazquez was shot only after threatening deputies with a knife.

RELATED: Man allegedly armed with knife fatally shot by deputies in Whittier, authorities say

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department issued the following statement to Eyewitness News:

First, we want to extend our condolences to the Vazquez family. Tragically, Mr. Marco Vasquez, 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.

Luis Carillo said during Tuesday's press conference that Vazquez was not threatening anyone when he was shot.

"My understanding is that they recovered a knife from inside the house and certainly he was not threatening anyone when he was shot. What makes this so very tragic is that without even trying to calm the situation they immediately pulled out their guns and within five seconds they started firing at him," he said.

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.

Vazquez's wife, Christina Elena Vazquez, said he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was placed on a 5150 hold on Sept. 12 but was released early from the hospital and had been battling with his mental illness since then. He had not been using his prescribed medication, she said.

Christina added that two hours before his death during the first call for service, the L.A. County Psychiatric Mobile Response Team denied their request to put Vazquez on a 5150 hold.

"We were very specific. We need a 5150. He needs help. Never once did we say we're fearing for our lives," she said.

He was acting erratically that night and believed his family was in danger, his wife said.

"He was asking the sheriff's to come because he was insistent that there were people in our home trying to hurt us and he was trying to keep us safe," she said.

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, Luis Carrillo said.

This time, only sheriff's deputies responded to the scene and within seconds after their arrival, Vazquez was shot 10 times and killed in front of his family with "deliberate indifference,'' the complaint alleges.

The night of the shooting, LASD Lt. Derrick Alfred told reporters that Vazquez was a threat during the second call for service to the family's home.

"They immediately were confronted with the male in the driveway holding a knife to a woman, so there was no time at that point to call for a mental evaluation team. Action had to be taken," Alfred said.

Family attorney Michael Carillo denied that claim.

"It's totally inaccurate, but it's another way that the sheriff's department and the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health is trying to justify their actions in using the force here," he said.

Vazquez's brother, Christopher, cried as he shared memories of his brother, who was described as a happy and hard-working family man.

"The one thing I can say that the sheriff's did is give us an angel in heaven. However, I wish that angel was still with me here because that was my big brother," he said.

Defendants in the lawsuit 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,'' Luis Carrillo said. "Without even giving him a chance, they shot and killed him within seconds, and shot him 10 times.''

City News Service contributed to this report.
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