A news conference was held Wednesday night in the front courtyard of South Pasadena City Hall as a steady rain fell to announce the filing of a wrongful death claim against the city and the Police Department over the death of Vanessa Marquez who lost her life during an officer involved shooting (OIS) last summer.

The filing of a legal claim is the precursor to a lawsuit, according to Vicki Sarmiento, the civil rights attorney representing Marquez’s mother, Delia McElfresh.

The claim is seeking monetary damages of more than $20 million, according to the claim that was presented at the press conference in the courtyard of City Hall under a steady, chilly rainstorm.

The claim’s damages include funeral and burial expenses, punitive damages and attorney fees and costs, among others.

The claim also names the involved police officers, who are not listed in the claim because they have not been publicly identified; Interim Police Chief Brian Solinsky; as well as “other unknown individuals who were involved in events, including but not limited to the dispatcher who took the call regarding the alleged welfare check and all those involved in the events preceding, during, and following the incident.”

City and police officials declined to comment, saying the OIS is still under investigation. The city has vowed to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation.

Sarmiento told the assembled television news crews Wednesday night and other media representatives that Marquez’s mother was nearby but not able to address the press conference.

“Vanessa is survived by her mother, Delia McElfresh, and Delia will be joining us,” Sarmiento said. “She actually thought she would have the emotional strength to speak to everyone but she’s having a very bad day. She’s overcome with emotions. It’s very close to the six-month anniversary. She wants to thank everybody here for the interest that is given to the life of her daughter.”The 49-year-old Marquez died in the OIS that occurred at about 1:48 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at her residence on Fremont Avenue, according to authorities. No officers were injured during the incident. Marquez was an actress, most notably with roles on “ER” and “Stand and Deliver.” Marquez was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The OIS probe is being handled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Also, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office is in charge of the official cause of death report. Sheriff investigators have put a “security hold” on the coroner’s report, which means the coroner can’t talk about its findings.

The District Attorney’s Office will render its opinion as to whether the shooting was justified or not. Investigations such as these can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete, according to officials. Local officials, including police, have already unofficially determined that the OIS was justified.

The three local officers involved in the Aug. 30 incident were placed on administrative leave as per department policy and have long since returned to patrol duties, police said.

Sarmiento disputes the accounts of investigators, saying she doesn’t know what actually happened.

Sarmiento presented her version contained in the “statement of facts” in the claim Wednesday night.

“On August 30, 2018, at approximately 11:45 a.m. or sometime before 2:oo p.m., police officers with the South Pasadena Police Department … went to Ms. Marquez’s second floor apartment at 1133 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena to presumably conduct a welfare check,” the claim states. “Ms. Marquez was a physically frail and petite female who weighed approximately 80-90 lbs. She had not committed a crime and was in the sanctity of her home when the … officers arrived to her home. Based on information and belief, a mental health clinician who was either an agent of the City of South Pasadena and/or an agent of the County of Los Angeles … was also present with the police officers. Based on information and belief …(officers and others present) mishandled the encounter with Ms. Marquez, including the (person) who took the alleged ‘welfare check’ call. Claimant contends that the entry to Ms. Marquez’s home was without warrant or exigent circumstances. Based on information and belief, (officers) attempted to cause the removal of Ms. Marquez from her home without legal justification. Thereafter, the … officers caused the situation to escalate and used unjustifiable deadly force against Ms. Marquez by shooting at her multiple times. Ms. Marquez’s death was the result of the officers’ negligence, poor tactics, overreaction and use of excessive force under the circumstances.”

The claim goes on to assert that So Pas police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department conspired to unjustifiably seize Marquez’s personal items “to wit: a laptop and her cell phone by causing a search warrant to be obtained for these personal items based on false, misleading and/or pretextual information.”

The claim was filed Feb. 20 because the statute of limitation runs out after six months from the date of the incident.

“A claim must be filed with the City Clerk of the City of South Pasadena within six months after the date on which the incident or event occurred,” according to the claim document.

The city now has to respond to the claim within a certain timeframe. However, municipalities routinely deny claims such as these.

Stay tuned to The Review website and the print edition as this ongoing story continues.

 

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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