Family of woman shot dead by police inside her home file wrongful death lawsuit

Melissa Perez, 46, ‘was having a mental health crisis,’ according to police chief

Alex Woodward,Megan Sheets
Sunday 09 July 2023 12:28 EDT
<p>Melissa Perez was shot and killed by San Antonio police on 23 June</p>

Melissa Perez was shot and killed by San Antonio police on 23 June

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the family of a woman who was fatally shot by police inside her home while experiencing a mental health crisis.

Melissa Perez’s deadly encounter with San Antonio police unfolded after midnight on 23 June. Sergeant Alfred Flores and officers Eleazar Alejandro and Nathaniel Villalobos were charged with the 46-year-old’s murder less than 24 hours later.

In their lawsuit against the city and the three officers, Perez’s family pointed to the San Antonio Police Department’s “formal and informal policies” as the “moving force” behind her death - specifically mental health policies, CNN reported.

The suit also accuses the department of “[creating] a culture of tolerance for the improper and unconstitutional use of excessive force” through a “consistent failure to discipline its officers”.

The family are seeking compensation “commensurate with the harm done”.

The suit also calls for the department and the city to “address the improvements that need to be made, and then do the hard work needed to make sure that Melissa Perez is the last person in San Antonio wrongfully killed by the police”.

City officials responded to the lawsuit in a statement saying they would “seek a speedy resolution through the judicial system”.

Mr Flores, 45; Mr Alejandro, 28; and Mr Villalobos, 27, were all suspended from the police force without pay following the shooting. They were released from jail on $100,000 bond ahead of a preliminary hearing scheduled for 25 July.

From left to right: San Antonio police Sergeant Alfred Flores and officers Eleazar Alejandro and Nathaniel Villalobos were charged with murder after the fatal shooting of Melissa Perez on 23 June

The three officers’ confrontation with Perez began as they responded to a report about a woman allegedly cutting wires to a fire alarm system at an apartment complex in the city.

After initially speaking to the officers, Perez ran to her apartment and locked the door, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told a press conference last month.

Body-cam footage released by the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) appeared to show the officers trying to speak with Perez through a window at the rear of the apartment, urging her to come out.

On the footage, she can be heard telling the officers that they do not have a warrant. “You’re going to get shot,” an officer can be heard saying at one point.

One officer appears to try to open a window. Perez threw a candleholder, then swung a hammer which hit the window and broke it, Chief McManus said.

One officer then opened fire but it appeared that Perez was not shot.

Police body-worn camera footage shows officers firing into the home of Melissa Perez

Seconds later, Perez “advanced toward the window again while still holding the hammer, and all three officers opened fire”, according to the police chief.

More than a dozen shots can be heard on the video. Perez was struck at least twice, according to Chief McManus. She died at the scene.

“It appeared that Ms Perez was having a mental health crisis,” Chief McManus said.

“The shooting officers’ actions were not consistent with SAPD policies and training, and they placed themselves in a situation where they used deadly force which was not reasonable given all the circumstances as we now understand them,” he added.

Mr Flores was a 14-year veteran of the department while the other two officers had been with the force for five and two years, respectively.

Investigations from SAPD’s Internal Affairs and Civil Rights divisions and the Bexar County district attorney’s Civil Rights Division are underway.

“We have always been a pro-police family. This breaks my heart. I always trusted the police to protect me and now I don’t know who to trust. We can’t express how hurt we are,” Perez’s daughter Alexis Tova told ABC News.

An arrest warrant for the officers states that Perez “did not pose an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death when she was shot because the defendants had a wall, a window blocked by a television, and a locked door between them.”

A statement from the San Antonio Police Officers’ Association to The New York Times offered its “deepest condolences” to the victim’s family.

“At this time, this is an active investigation, and can’t speak to the matter further until the investigation is complete and judicial process is underway,” the statement said.

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