Homicide investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department completed the probe into the officer-involved-shooting (OIS) of So Pas resident Vanessa Marquez two months ago and are waiting on the District Attorney to render its opinion.

“This case has been presented to the Justice System Integrity Division of the District Attorney’s Office and we are awaiting the letter of opinion,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Lt. Joe Mendoza said in an email to The Review dated Feb. 22.

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 legally justified or not. Investigations such as these can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete, according to officials. 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. Local officials, including police, have already unofficially determined that the OIS was justified.

Greg Risling, spokesperson with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said the case “remains under review.” Risling declined to elaborate.

In the interim, a wrongful death claim was filed on Feb. 20 against South Pasadena and the Police Department seeking damages of $20 million.

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

Sarmiento announced the filing of the claim during a news conference held in the City Hall courtyard under a steady and cold 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 have declined to comment, saying the OIS is still under investigation, but did confirm receipt of the claim.

The city has 45 days from the filing to respond to the claim or it can go silent and not respond at all.

“Those are our options,” John Pope, the city’s public information officer, said back when the claim was filed. “We do have the option to not respond at all or do so within 45 days. That’s the clock we’re under.”

The city has vowed to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation.

Sarmiento told the assembled television, radio, online and print news crews Feb. 20 that Marquez’s mother was nearby but not able to address the press conference.

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.

So Pas Police Capt. Brian Solinsky publicly recounted the incident at a City Council meeting last year while he was the acting police chief.

“On Aug. 30…police were called to a residence in the 1100 block of Fremont Avenue for a welfare check,” Solinsky said at the City Council meeting last year. “The caller was concerned about the subject’s well-being and asked police to investigate. Officers arrived on scene with a mental health professional to assist in the investigation. The officers and the mental health professional talked to the subject for approximately 90 minutes. It was during that time she appeared to demonstrate mental health issues. An additional officer was called to assist. At one point, the subject armed herself with a handgun and drew it on the officers. At which time an officer-involved- shooting occurred. The subject was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.”

Lt. Mendoza, the lead investigator in the case, said the weapon turned out to be a replica semi-automatic handgun. Mendoza also said a health clinician just happened to be riding with the So Pas police the day of the incident. Initially, two officers responded to the situation and as Marquez’s behavior allegedly became more unpredictable and problematic, they called in a third officer with the health clinician.

Marquez then armed herself with what looked like a handgun and pointed it at the officers, at which time an officer-involved shooting occurred, Mendoza said.

Mendoza also said the DA could take up to a year-and-a-half before it releases its findings.

“The look at pertinent case laws and it can be a long process,” Mendoza said during a brief telephone interview. “It can take six months to a year and even sometimes up to a year-and-a-half.”

No officers were injured during the incident. Marquez was an actress, most notably with roles on “ER” and “Stand and Deliver.”

Sarmiento, the civil rights attorney representing Marquez’s mother, Delia McElfresh, disputes the information that has been released publicly.

The claim also accuses So Pas police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department of having conspired to unjustifiably obtain a search warrant to seize Marquez’s 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.

Steve Whitmore
Author

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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