TUCSON (CN) - A police officer in Bisbee, Ariz., needlessly killed a homeless man who had a long history of mental illness, the man's relatives claim in a federal lawsuit.
During an April 22, 2015, altercation at a tent camp near a supermarket in Bisbee, a small town about 100 miles southeast of Tucson, local police Sgt. Robert Coronado shot and killed 51-year-old Carlos Ramirez.
Alicia Thompson and Alicia Ramirez, Ramirez' daughter and mother, respectively, sued Coronado and the City of Bisbee in Tucson federal court on Thursday, seeking damages for wrongful death.
Coronado was reportedly attempting to arrest Ramirez based on a complaint that the homeless man had earlier pounded on the window of a woman's car in the parking lot of the supermarket.
Ramirez had lived in a tent on private property for "several years with permission from the property owner," the complaint states.
He was "well known to defendant Coronado and other Bisbee officers as having a history of mental illness," and had "multiple arrests and interactions with Bisbee police officers throughout the years."
Coronado claimed that he shot Ramirez in the chest after the homeless man threatened him with a knife.
The Cochise County Sheriff's Department and the Sierra Vista Police Department investigated the incident.
According to a Sierra Vista Police Department incident report obtained on-line, "Sgt. Coronado explained that he was walking toward Carlos and told him to stand up and that he was under arrest. He said as he approached, Carlos stood up and appeared to be attempting to hide something in his hand. He said he was concerned the item was a weapon and he unholstered his firearm and held it against his leg while telling Carlos to drop the item and show his hands."
The report adds that, "Sgt. Coronado said that he was within touching distance of Carlos when he saw the item was a knife. He said Carlos raised the knife toward him and he knocked Carlos' hand down, took a step back, and fired one shot."
Coronado also told investigators that he had arrested Ramirez "ten or more times" over the years and had once been assaulted by him.
On May 29, 2015, the Cochise County Attorney's Office found that Coronado's use of deadly force was "legally justified."
"The toxicology examination of Mr. Ramirez' blood and urine show high levels of methamphetamine and alcohol," wrote Chief Criminal Deputy County Attorney Doyle Johnstun in a letter to the Cochise County Sheriff's Department. "Either of the substances alone would explain Ramirez' demeanor and actions leading up to his death."
According to a Sierra Vista Police Department report, among the items investigators took from the scene were a "knife", more than $6,000 in cash, most of it hidden in an acoustic guitar, a "Fireball liquor bottle", and a "folding pocket knife."
Ramirez' relatives claim in their lawsuit that Coronado "violated the decedent's right to be secure in his person against unreasonable seizures and unreasonable use of force." They say the city "should have known that defendant Coronado was likely to negligently and/or recklessly cause injury and violate decedent's constitutional rights."
The plaintiffs are represented by Timothy Tonkin of the Phillips Law Group in Phoenix. Tonkin did not immediately respond to a phone message and an email seeking comment on Friday morning.
Bisbee City Attorney Britt Hanson said Friday that Coronado is currently on medical leave from the Bisbee Police Department. The city is being represented by Tucson attorney Marshall Humphrey. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday morning.
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