By ARIEL TU
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The family of a woman fatally shot by Los Angeles officers while firing at a man who held a knife to her throat filed a claim against the police department and the city, lawyers announced Wednesday.
Elizabeth Tollison’s family, who filed the claim Tuesday, said at a news conference Wednesday that officers showed no regard for her life as she was briefly held hostage.
Police said they opened fire on Guillermo Perez on June 16 after he began cutting Tollison’s throat outside a church that helps homeless people. Both Perez and Tollison, who were homeless, died at the scene.
But Brian Dunn, the attorney representing Tollison’s family, said that a doctor told Tollison’s son that she only had a cut on her cheek and that it was not life-threatening.
On June 16, police arrived at the church after a 911 call reported a man had stabbed his ex-girlfriend.
Perez ignored officers’ commands to drop the knife before he grabbed Tollison, who was standing nearby, according to video footage from officers’ body cameras.
Witnesses told police that Perez moved the knife in a “sawing motion against her throat and cut her throat,” Cmdr. Alan Hamilton, who leads the unit that investigates police shootings, said in the video.
Three officers opened fire, shooting 18 rounds, killing Perez and Tollison.
Tollison’s son, Jesse Pelaez, said at Wednesday’s news conference that he thinks that “if the hostage was somebody important, the situation would have been handled differently.”
“It hurts me so much knowing I’ll never be able to see, talk or listen to my mother again because the police didn’t know how to handle the situation properly,” he said.
Police Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday that “officers were forced to make split-second decisions based on the actions of a violent individual.”
But Dunn said the department violated training protocols for handling suspects armed with weapons other than firearms and should have tried harder to de-escalate the situation.
“It is illogical and inconceivable for an officer on the scene to not realize that she will certainly be shot if 18 rounds are fired,” Dunn said.
“They say this is a fast-moving situation,” he said. “This is a fast-moving situation because they turned it into a fast-moving situation.”
Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein did not immediately return a message Wednesday asking about the discrepancy over where Tollison was cut or about whether the department violated training protocols.
Tollison’s death marked the second time in five weeks in which Los Angeles police killed hostages or bystanders as they tried to stop attackers. On July 21, police tried to stop an armed man from entering a Trader Joe’s store and fatally shot the supermarket’s assistant manager who was standing nearby.
If the city rejects the claim for damages, the family can proceed to court with a lawsuit.