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Texas Family Can Sue City for Son’s Death

HOUSTON (CN) - Parents of a 19-year-old shot to death by a Stafford, Texas, police officer during a mental health crisis call can sue the city and its police chief for their failure to train on the appropriate use of force, a federal judge ruled.

Officer Jesus Estrada, who was 23 at the time, shot and killed Aaron Hobart, a teenager suffering from delusions linked to schizoaffective disorder, in February 2009.

Aaron's parents, Steve and Pam Hobart, filed a federal complaintagainst the City of Stafford, Estrada and Stafford's Chief of Police, Bonny Krahn.

The family says Aaron had been off his medication for three months and, as his condition worsened, refused to attend an appointment scheduled by his mother, Pam, with psychiatrist C. Scott Moreland.

The Hobarts say Pam followed the psychiatrist's instructions, and rather than push her son to attend the appointment, called 911 for assistance.

Pam says she expected the dispatcher to send an officer with crisis intervention team training, however, the first person to arrive was Estrada, who lacked the necessary training.

The officer fired his gun and hit the Hobarts' unarmed son with four bullets during the 54 seconds he spent in their house.

Estrada claims Aaron came after him, hit him in the head and was on the verge of causing him to black out.

Though Pam and Estrada disagree over the events that transpired in the house, a 36-page order issued by U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison describes the video footage captured by the camera on Estrada's car and the sounds picked up by the officer's microphone.

Ellison wrote: "The video shows Officer Estrada entering the Hobarts' home by himself at approximately 15:07:59 on the video's clock. For a period of time, only the front yard is visible, with audio from inside the home captured on Officer Estrada's microphone. Immediately after he enters the home, one can hear Officer Estrada conversing with Mrs. Hobart. At approximately 15:08:15, one can hear noises, and Officer Estrada shouts, 'Stop!' and 'Get back!' several times. At approximately 15:08:20, one can hear gunshots. Officer Estrada then begins shouting, 'Goddamnit!' 'Shots fired!' and 'Oh my god!' and Mrs. Hobart begins screaming loudly. The video then shows two other SPD officers arriving in the house at approximately 15:08:43. They accompany Officer Estrada onto the lawn, where Estrada kneels down with his head on the ground sobbing, and remains panicked during the next seven minutes of video and audio, repeatedly saying, 'Oh my god,' crying, and stating that he cannot catch his breath."

Aaron's parents sued for violations of their son's constitutional rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Texas Tort Claims Act.

Ellison denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment for the Hobarts' claims against both the city and Krahn for failure to train on the appropriate use of force.

The judge also denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment for the Hobarts' claim against the city for encouraging and condoning excessive use of force.

"If, as the testimony suggests, SPD officers were trained to use deadly force anytime they began to lose consciousness, regardless of the surrounding circumstances, such training would be inconsistent with constitutional mandates regarding excessive use of force," Ellison noted.

According to the order the Hobarts have 15 days to amend their complaint to include a claim based on ratification.

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