LOS ANGELES (CN) — The family of a Pasadena man who was killed when police responded to a family-disturbance call have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, claiming an officer choked him to death.
Reginald Thomas’s mother, grandmother, children and girlfriend sued Pasadena, its police chief and 10 officers in federal court Friday, claiming police used excessive force in responding to a 911 call on Sept. 30.
The family says Thomas made the 911 call himself as he suffered a “mental health crisis,” and thought that his family was in danger.
The city issued a statement on Oct. 9, identifying the officers who responded to the call from an apartment on East Orange Grove Boulevard. The city said that police found Thomas holding a knife and fire extinguisher.
Officers asked Thomas to drop the knife and fire extinguisher but he refused and retreated into an apartment and tried to barricade himself inside, according to the city’s statement. The officers then used stun guns on him.
But in the family’s 21-page lawsuit, they say Thomas was visiting his girlfriend Shainie Lindsey to see his children when in the early hours of the morning he “believed that his family was in danger” and called the police.
They say officers shot him with stun guns without giving him time to follow their orders, then rushed him and kicked and punched him while he was on the ground, “screaming for help and calling for his mother.”
“An unknown officer put a knee onto Mr. Thomas’ neck and applied the full weight of his body onto the throat area of Mr. Thomas until he was speechless and finally lifeless, intentionally squeezing the life out of Mr. Thomas. This murderous act was witnessed by Mr. Thomas’ loved ones,” the lawsuit states.
The city said that officers “immediately” tried to revive Thomas with CPR, but the family denies it. They say the officers delayed and that firefighters “arrived with no sense of urgency,” failed do what was necessary to save his life and did not take him to the local trauma center.
“At the time the officer engaged with the decedent there no threat of violence to the occupant of the Lindsey residence. No exigent circumstances exited, and time was on the side of the first responders to negotiate and take a peaceful approach to resolve the incident. Instead of choosing to assist Thomas in dealing with this mental health crisis they chose to kill him,” the complaint states.
Lindsey told KTLA-TV in September that Thomas was bipolar.
The family says that Thomas never physically harmed the officers nor anyone at the scene before he died. Officer Susan Gomez took a hard drive of surveillance video from the apartment building, the complaint states.
“After manipulation of the device, the system was returned several hours later,” the family says. And, they say, autopsy results were placed on a “security hold” to “cover the murderous actions” of the officers.
According to the city, six officers were involved in the incident: Officers Thomas Butler, Robert Griffith, Michael Orosco, Philip Poirier, Raphael Santiago and Aaron Villacana.
Thomas’s family is represented by attorney Caree Harper.
The Pasadena Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.