The family of a woman who was shot dead by LAPD cops while she was held hostage by a man at knifepoint filed a claim against the city and department Wednesday, alleging that officers did not de-escalate the situation before opening fire.
The Los Angeles Police Department released the dramatic video on Tuesday showing the moment when Guillermo Perez tried to saw off Elizabeth Tollison's head before officers fired nearly 20 times, striking both of them.
Tollison's family said at a news conference that officers showed no regard for her life while she was briefly held hostage. The family's attorney, Brian Dunn, detailed what he said were several failings by the officers on the scene, including yelling conflicting commands to the suspect and, ultimately, opening fire when doing so put Tollison's life in jeopardy
"You had three officers firing, and we have accounted for 18 total rounds. And during the sequence of firing, the suspect is in very close proximity to my clients' mother," Dunn said. "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, and they're fired from opposite directions."
Police said they opened fire on Perez on June 16 only after he began cutting Tollison's throat, and witnesses reported he moved the knife in a "sawing motion against her throat and cut her throat."
But Dunn said that a doctor told Tollison's son that she only had a cut on her cheek and that it was not life-threatening.
In a news conference on Tuesday, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said that hostages' lives are a priority and recruits are generally taught to use a "precise head shot." He said an investigation will look at whether the officers' actions align with hostage training.
“The life of a hostage is paramount and protecting that individual from the threat of the assailant,” Moore said. “In doing that, the balancing act the officer has is how to protect them by stopping the suspect’s actions.”
A spokesperson at the LAPD's Media Relations office told FOX11 the department had no comment on the family's claim. The amount of damages sought was not disclosed.
The shooting of Tollison was the first time in 13 years an innocent bystander or hostage was killed by LAPD gunfire. Nearly a month later 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 by Tollison's family, they can proceed to court with a lawsuit.