STOCKTON, Calif. (CN) – The children and husband of a woman who was killed while being held hostage by bank robbers who’d used her as a human shield blame Stockton, Calif., police for her death.
Misty Holt-Singh died in a police barrage of 600 bullets, though the officers knew the robbers were holding her hostage in a getaway car, her family says in the lawsuit in San Joaquin County Court.
They say 32 Stockton police officers fired more than 600 bullets at the fleeing SUV, and continued firing “indiscriminately” though the van had been disabled after an hour-long police chase involving 50 police vehicles.
Gang members Gilbert Renteria, Alex Martinez and Jaime Ramos fled through busy streets after robbing the Thornton Bank of the West branch in Stockton. Renteria and Martinez were killed that day, July 16, 2014. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Ramos. A fourth man has been charged as an accomplice for driving them to the bank.
Bank manager Kelly Huber, whom the robbers forced to drive, then pushed out of her own car after shooting her, said her branch is called the “Rob n Go” because it has been robbed so many times. She sued Stockton police in July.
Holt-Singh’s family says it was the second time that Renteria and Martinez had robbed the bank at gunpoint. They robbed it in January 2014 but were never arrested, though police had evidence against Renteria, including a suspicious vehicle and copious amounts of live ammunition, the family says. They say Renteria was never even brought in for questioning.
On the day she died, Misty and her 12-year-old daughter pulled up to the bank to make an ATM withdrawal. Several minutes later, while Misty’s daughter watched from the car, armed men tied up the outside security guard and pulled her mother into the bank.
As the robbers left the bank with Huber in tow and money from the vault, and saw three police cars in the parking lot, “Stockton police officers immediately drew their weapons and yelled threatening remarks, forcing all three robbers back into the bank,” according to the complaint.
The robbers grabbed Misty and bank employee Stephanie Koussaya to use as human shields with Huber, then fled in Huber’s SUV. Misty’s daughter, “still sitting terrified in the car, contacted her father, letting him know that the bank was robbed and her mother had been taken.”
Then came “an hour-long, rolling gun battle” through city streets at speeds up to 120 mph. Huber, shot in the leg by Ramos, was pushed out of the van and a robber took the wheel. Koussaya jumped from the van toward the end of the pursuit and survived, with bullets flying around her.
“Despite instructions to hold their fire, an indiscriminate barrage of police gunfire was directed at the suspect vehicle, with full knowledge that hostage Misty Holt-Singh remained inside,” her family says. “Over 600 rounds were fired by 32 police officers at the vehicle containing a known innocent hostage. This was done without a line of sight on the suspects, without a line of sight on the hostage, and without selecting targets within the vehicle. Instead, the 32 officers rapidly discharged their firearms at the vehicle itself, indiscriminately firing without concern for who, or what, they might strike with their weapons fire.”
The family says Stockton violated “the primary police objective in hostage situations – to take the necessary steps to free innocent persons who are endangered and held against their will, and take reasonable action having a high probability of neutralizing the deadly threat or preventing the situation from escalating.”
Paul Singh and his children seek punitive damages for wrongful death, civil rights violations and negligence. They are represented by Gregory Bentley, with Shernoff Bidart Echeverria & Bentley, in Claremont.
Stockton City Attorney John Luebberke told Courthouse News the city does not comment on pending litigation.
He did say, however, that a police foundation found in a report that Stockton police “responded with bravery and professionalism to an event unprecedented in the history of U.S. law enforcement. We are committed to taking every opportunity the report provides to improve our ability to respond to this kind of layered, complex series of crimes, should we have to face something like it again,” he said.
The purpose of the report, “ A Heist Gone Bad ,” Luebberke said, is “to help law enforcement agencies prepare for a similar critical incident, not to second-guess split-second decisions made by officers in the midst of an extremely dangerous event. Nevertheless, we understood at the time Chief [Eric] Jones commissioned the independent review that it likely would be portrayed by attorneys suing the city as bolstering their cases. We accept that as a reality of litigation, but we believe we have an obligation to study the tragic events of last July carefully and learn all we can from them”
Attorney Bentley said: “We are hoping we can identify the rifle or the weapon that fired the 10 bullets that struck her, and if we can do that then we can identify the person that fired those bullets. I think that would give us a clear indication as to who actually shot the bullet that killed her.”
Bentley added: “We did go to mediation. We’ve gone twice. It was not fruitful. The city has yet to accept responsibility for their actions.”
Bentley said Chief Jones has stated that no officers have been disciplined.
“What does discipline mean?” Bentley asked. “That means taking corrective action to do something to make change. Yet this department hasn’t disciplined even one officer. That’s shocking.”
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