Los Angeles

Family Files Lawsuit Over LAPD Shooting of Woman Held at Knifepoint

A stabbing suspect and hostage were killed in the June 16 LAPD shooting in Van Nuys

A law firm filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles Wednesday on behalf of the children of a woman who was accidentally killed by LAPD gunfire while being held hostage by a knife-wielding criminal.

LAPD Body Camera Video: Click here to watch the video released by the LAPD (Warning: Graphic Content)

Elizabeth Tollison, 49, is one of two civilians killed by misdirected police fire in a six-week period. Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore released dramatic body-camera video Tuesday of the June shooting in Van Nuys that resulted in the deaths of Tollison and the knife-wielding man.

The Cochran Firm, founded more than 40 years ago by the late Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., one of the leading "Dream Team" lawyers on the O.J. Simpson defense team, announced Tuesday it will file wrongful death, negligence and assault and battery claims against the city on behalf of Tollison's three adult children. Attorneys and Tollison's family members were at a Wednesday news conference. 

"Because of a series of training violations, because of a series of actions which fell completely below the standard of their own training protocols, what we had was the death of a completely innocent person that was totally and utterly preventable," attorney Brian T. Dunn said Wednesday, as two of the victim's children stood nearby.

Tollisons' brother earlier told NBC4 that she was losing her eyesight and might not have known about the danger.

"It was a tragic end to her life," said Joe Tollison. "It was very, very shocking to me. I feel like there could have been something else done."

One of Tollison's children read a brief statement at the Wednesday announcement.

The lawsuit stems from the June 16 shooting at a homeless outreach center in the 6400 block of Tyrone Avenue. Officers responded to the center after a report of a man with a knife assaulting a woman. After a tense standoff, officers fatally shot Guillermo Perez, 32, as he held a large serrated knife to the neck of Tollison, Moore said.

"This is another case where officers were forced to make split-second decisions based on the actions of a violent individual," Moore said. "It was a tense situation that unfolded quickly. An innocent person... was killed."

She died at a hospital two days later.

At the news conference at Los Angeles police headquarters Tuesday, Moore discussed the shooting and displayed an edited "critical briefing" video that included footage from officers' body cameras showing their actions at the shooting scene. 

Officers ordered Perez to drop his knife, but he refused, ultimately holding it to Tollison's neck. An officer fired a beanbag shotgun during the confrontation, but it failed to stop Perez, who used a folding lawn chair to block at least two rounds, and the officers fired their handguns as the suspect pressed the knife into his hostage's neck, Moore said.

Eighteen rounds were fired.

About six weeks after the June 16 shooting, LAPD officers exchanged gunfire with a suspect who crashed during a pursuit and ran into a Silver Lake Trader Joe's store on July 21. The store's assistant manager was killed in the crossfire.

Moore said 27-year-old Melyda Corado was killed by a police bullet.

According to the LAPD, two officers fired a total of eight shots, one of which struck the suspect, 28-year-old Gene Evin Atkins, in the left arm. Another struck Corado, going through her arm and into her body, police said. Atkins surrendered after a roughly three-hour hostage situation at the market. He has been charged with Corado's murder, under the legal theory that he set the circumstances in motion that ended with her death.

Moore said the Trader Joe's shooting was the first in 13 years in which a hostage was killed by LAPD gunfire. His department is reviewing its "less lethal" weapon options -- and its training procedures -- following the two deaths. The review includes a new "40mm launcher" that fires a larger and more powerful projectile than the current beanbag shotguns. The weapon is more accurate and effective up to a distance of 100 feet, he said.

Moore said Tuesday his department is also reviewing any improvements it can make in its "command and control" training and procedures at crime scenes in the aftermath of these and other officer-involved shootings.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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