LAREDO, Texas (CN) – The parents of a Texas sheriff’s deputy claim in court that a policewoman entered the reportedly suicidal deputy’s apartment without knocking or identifying herself and fatally shot him twice after his mother screamed, “Don’t shoot, he’s a cop!”
Cesar and Dora Cuellar sued the city of Laredo and LPD Officers Priscilla Hernandez and Estefania Gonzalez on Thursday in Laredo federal court.
The Cuellars say in the lawsuit that although their son Cesar Cuellar Jr., a Webb County sheriff’s deputy, was holding his service pistol when Hernandez fatally shot him, he never threatened Hernandez, nor her partner Gonzalez, and was pointing the gun to the ground.
Laredo, with a population of 248,142, is Webb County’s seat.
Hernandez and Gonzalez went to check on Cuellar on Nov. 19, 2015 at his Laredo apartment after his girlfriend told a dispatcher she was worried about him, according to the complaint.
Gonzalez had just started with the department and Hernandez was training her, the lawsuit says.
His parents’ complaint doesn’t say Cuellar was suicidal, but KGNS, Laredo’s NBC affiliate, reported a few days after the shooting that LPD said the officers were responding to a call about a possibly armed man threatening to kill himself.
The Cuellars claim in the filing that LPD had not trained Hernandez or Gonzalez in suicide prevention and crisis intervention and the officers waltzed into their son’s apartment like it was theirs.
“When Hernandez and Gonzalez arrived at his apartment door they did not knock and announce their presence. Instead, Hernandez and Gonzalez simply let themselves in to Cesar Jr.’s home,” the complaint states.
They saw Cuellar’s police utility belt sitting on a table and saw his gun was missing, yet they still kept quiet, the parents say.
“Cesar, Jr., from inside the bedroom, heard the two strangers in his home, and yelled at them to ‘Get out!’ and told them he was armed. Neither Hernandez nor Gonzalez told Cesar, Jr. anything about why they were at his apartment. They did not even say they were police,” the complaint states.
Both officers pointed their guns at Cuellar’s bedroom door and Cuellar walked out with his pistol in his hand pointing at the ground, his parents say.
“Cesar, Jr. appeared stunned, like a deer in headlights, with two officers pointing guns directly at him. He did not move, and his arm never left his side,” the complaint states. “Cesar Jr.’s mother, Mrs. Cuellar, came upon the scene, looked into her son’s home, and saw him standing outside his bedroom with officers pointing their guns at him. Mrs. Cuellar yelled ‘Don’t shoot, he’s a cop!’”
Dora Cuellar told KGNS she and her son planned to go out for breakfast that Monday morning.
The Cuellars say Hernandez ignored Dora and shot their son twice, in the stomach and chest, and he died shortly thereafter at the hospital. He was 25.
A Webb County grand jury declined last October to indict the officers for the shooting.
The Cuellars want punitive damages for alleged civil rights violations: from Hernandez for excessive force, from Hernandez and Gonzalez for invasion of privacy, and from the city for municipal liability. They claim the shooting was caused by LPD’s failure to train its officers.
The Cuellars say their son’s death came on the heels of another egregious LPD shooting.
“Over a year before Cesar Jr. was shot to death, Laredo Police Department officers shot a man known to be severely mentally ill over sixty times because he was holding a BB gun (even though independent witnesses told the officers the BB gun was not a real weapon). After fatally shooting the man dozens of times, surveillance video captured two officers congratulating each other with a ‘fist bump.’ No officers were ever disciplined for this use of excessive, deadly force,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in original.)
The Cuellars also seek damages for wrongful death, loss of companionship, mental anguish and their son’s medical and funeral bills. They are represented by Jeff Edwards in Austin.
An LPD lieutenant told Courthouse News on Friday that Hernandez and Gonzalez are still with the department.