The city announced that it reached a settlement with the mother of Vanessa Marquez, who was fatally shot by South Pasadena police officers at her apartment in 2018 while they were conducting a welfare check on the actress.
To settle the wrongful death suit filed by Marquez’s mother, Delia McElfresh, the city will pay $450,000, most of which will come from the city’s litigation risk pool. The civil case was filed in August in federal court, two months after a similar case was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and half a year after the department was cleared of legal liability in the killing.
“Any loss of life is tragic,” Mayor Diana Mahmud wrote in the statement announcing the settlement.
It was unclear when the settlement was reached, although the parties involved last had a case management meeting scheduled for Jan. 20. The federal lawsuit sought unspecified damages, while the claim that preceded the Superior Court filing asked for $20 million.
Police were dispatched to Marquez’s apartment, at 1133 Fremont Ave., on Aug. 30, 2018, after a friend reported being concerned for her well-being. According to the city and the South Pasadena Police Department, those officers required the property manager to unlock the door to her apartment “after several unsuccessful attempts” to have her let them inside.
As gleaned from body-mounted camera footage provided by the police department, Marquez’s apartment was filled with various boxes and other items, and was described as having “hoarding conditions” by the department. After waking her up, officers brought in members of the South Pasadena Fire Department as well as a mental health social worker from the county to help evaluate her physical and mental health.
After about 90 minutes, the emergency responders decided to take Marquez into custody on a 5150 order, which is typically used to impose a 72-hour hold for psychiatric evaluation on people experiencing a mental health crisis. At that point, as seen on the camera footage, Marquez suddenly pulls out what resembles a handgun, prompting the responders to quickly leave the apartment and establish a perimeter downstairs.
Two officers ultimately shot Marquez when, as they tried to convince her to drop the weapon, she also left the apartment and began walking downstairs with the weapon. The officers collectively fired 12 rounds at her.
Subsequent investigations by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office ruled that the officers reasonably feared for their safety after Marquez pointed the weapon — which ended up being a BB gun designed to resemble an actual gun — in their direction.
The department reported afterward that Marquez was having seizures throughout the initial interaction and supposedly had not eaten in five days. Additionally, Marquez had made a number of social media posts in the days leading up to her killing about her deteriorating physical and mental health.
Marquez, known for her role in the NBC medical drama “ER,” had a history of seizures. McElfresh contends that her daughter was shot “when she was not facing the officers, when the officers were a safe distance away from her, and when there was no imminent threat of serious injury or death to the officers or others,” according to the federal suit.
The lawsuit also accused the department of escalating the situation in its response, in which officers played a prominent role. Marches and demonstrations by Marquez’s friends and supporters of police reform also have made this assertion and use the tragedy as an example of why municipalities should invest more in mental health services and diminish police involvement in such crises.
Indeed, officers from SPPD had responded to calls at Marquez’ apartment 10 times since 2009, with the fire department logging 14 calls to that location since 2008, according to former Police Chief Joe Ortiz, who was not with the department at the time of the killing.
Outside of other officers, the lawsuits did name Ortiz’s predecessor, Art Miller, as a defendant.
In addition to her role as nurse Wendy Goldman on “ER” from 1994-97, Marquez also appeared in the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver” and had guest roles on “Seinfeld,” “Melrose Place,” “Nurses” and “Wiseguy.”
She made headlines in 2017 when she took to Twitter to accuse former “ER” star George Clooney of blacklisting her from the show for speaking out about harassment on the set.
“Women who don’t play the game lose career. I did,” she wrote.
She alleged she was racially and sexually harassed on the set. Clooney denied having her barred from the show, telling “E! News” he “had no idea Vanessa was blacklisted.”
City News Service contributed to this report.