On Wednesday, August 1st, 2018, the Cochran Firm California held a press conference where they declared their wrongful death and negligence claim against the Los Angeles Police Department. Head attorney Brian Dunn led this press conference. This is a summary of the claim as spoken by Dunn, taken from their livestream on their Facebook page.
Thank you all for coming. I am Brian Dunn. I’m going to be among the attorneys working on this case. To my right is Megan Gyongyos, she will also be working on this case. We are also joined by two of the surviving sons of Elizabeth Tollison. What happened to her was truly a tragedy, and no one is denying that, but what no one has talked about is how the real tragedy was the Los Angeles Police Department’s tactical response to this incident. And because of serious training violations, what we had was a death of a completely innocent person that was totally and utterly preventable.
I’ve handed you all a training bulletin. This is reflective of an actual policy statement with regard to the training guidelines to be used in the field by police officers (which is consistent with statewide guidelines). You all know what happened. This is not the first time, in a major metropolitan police agency, that there’s been an encounter with a mentally unstable individual with a knife. This is something that happens over and over again, and over the years, police agencies have determined what to do and what not to do in this situation. The LAPD has completely failed to acknowledge all of the dramatic departures from their own policies that resulted in this unfortunate death. Now, one of the first things that we’re gonna talk about is the recurring theme in all of police tactics, which is dealing with individuals that are suffering from a mental illness or a mental instability. This is not meant to be sympathetic to Mr. Perez, but rather what I am trying to say is that it should have been obvious, based on the manner on which he was acting, that something wasn’t right with him. He could have been mentally ill, or under the influence of drugs. Perhaps both cases are true.
But what does that mean? What that means is that he is not going to be able to respond or process information in the same way that we would. The other thing is that it’s well recognized that people who are in this state adopt a what is called “fight or flight” mentality because they don’t really understand what’s happening. They understand the words that are being used, but what they see are men yelling and pointing guns at them. This is a dramatic departure from the way that police are trained to deal with people that are suffering from mental illness. You’ll notice in the training bulletin they’re not supposed to yell. They’re supposed to assume a quiet, nonthreatening manner. They’re supposed to try to establish communication with the individual. If you’re yelling at the top of your lungs, “Drop the knife. Drop the knife. Drop the knife. Drop the knife,” and it’s not working, there should be some transition to a tactical protocol that would be more effective. But what we had was, almost instinctively, from the moment they got there, they began yelling, conflicting and almost immediately thereafter, he engaged in the provocative act that ultimately caused two people to get killed.
Now when we approach all of these cases, we have to look at what is it that they’re responding to. I think one of the most interesting things about the presentation yesterday from the LAPD was that they talked about the nature of the call that they were responding to, and the first thing they did was they played a 911 call. In that 911 call, you hear a distraught citizen talking about an individual who is stabbed. Now what the LAPD didn’t tell you about is that officers in the field don’t hear 911 calls. They don’t ever hear them. If you call 911 and report an emergency, it’s gonna go to a dispatcher, and the dispatcher is going to report it to the officers. We’ve listened to all of the dispatches, and one of the curious things that we’ve learned is that these police officers were never told that someone had been stabbed. The 911 caller reported that someone had been stabbed but the officers that responded to this were never told that Perez had stabbed anyone with a knife. Why is that important? It’s important because in terms of what they’re responding to, I believe that there was a reference to the two words “ambulance” “cutting” but there was never any reference to a man who stabbed someone. Their job is to apprehend this individual. Yes, they know he may be mentally unstable. They can obviously see that he’s got a knife, but the concept of them responding to an individual who had been stabbed is something that was very important to the department; yet it wasn’t something that was reported to the officers in the field, from what we can determine. We have a situation in which there is no form of communication. There appears to be no form of tactical plan that the officers had. There appears to be a complete abrogation of the most basic patrol technique which talks about the concept of contact and cover officers. There is a specific training protocol that says that when dealing with individuals in the field, there should be one officer that is the contact officer and that speaks to the person, and the other one should not say anything at all. That person should be the cover officer in case the use of force is needed.
However, here you had at least three people shouting conflicting commands, and what does that do? It creates a volcano of actions and words. It gets hotter and hotter and hotter, and then it just erupts. If that heat is coming from law enforcement, you have to understand that they’re not trained to do this. This is not their training. Yet you can hear them screaming from the moment they got there. Keep in mind that Mr. Perez does not fully understand what is happening around him. He’s not able to process what’s happening, and he’s going to be looking at the guns, and he’s going hearing the energy that’s coming off the officers that are talking to him. As a result, we have this explosion that was caused by his provocative act. Once again, this is not the first time that a major municipal police agency has confronted a mentally unstable man with knife. Why does it usually not end like this? Because, under normal circumstances, we would expect the involved officers to act in a manner that is consistent with their training, and none of that happened here.
With regard to the actions of Mr. Perez, we have some information. Mr. Pelaez was at the hospital with his mother not long after this happened and was informed by the doctors that she had a cut on her cheek, but it wasn’t life-threatening. So, this is the irony, folks. The officers will say that they fired in defense of Ms. Tollison, yet they killed Ms. Tollison. And if you watcht he video, once they make the decision to shoot, we have another complete departure from every training standard that is applicable here. As we all know, you had three officers firing, and we have counted for eighteen total rounds, and during the sequence of firing, the suspect is in very close proximity to my client’s mother. It is illogical and inconceivable for an officer on the scene to not realize that she will certainly be shot if eighteen rounds are fired, and they’re fired from opposite directions based on what we can see in the video. And so you start talking about, “Why did you do this?” “Well, I did this to defend her.” And as a result of this act, she is dead.
The chief of police for the Los Angeles police department calls this a tragedy. There is a subtle subconscious suggestion there, and that is that this tragedy, in his words, was exclusively caused by the actions of Mr. Perez. And the reason why it’s difficult for these men who lost their mom to hear, because there is absolutely no responsibility for any of this that’s being taken.
And sadly this is not something that is isolated; as we all know, this is a problem in our nation. Police kill people, they kill people more in this country than anywhere else. Yet we have to try and wrap our heads around it. We have to understand why it’s happening. And if the highest officer can’t say that we made a mistake, or we did something wrong, and instead says the problem is exclusively caused by what happened, how are we ever going to get past this? Where’s going to be the solution, where’s the additional training? What’s going to happen?
So, that’s why we’re here. We have a very simple belief system here. Our belief system is that we believe that the police should do everything conceivably possible, to keep from killing someone. They should do everything that they conceivably could do to keep from killing someone. Because we don’t know what crime Perez would have been charged with. Maybe attempted murder, who knows? Maybe assault with a deadly weapon? He had some priors. But we’ll never know, because he’s dead, and again, I’m not trying to be sympathetic to him, and I do not represent his family. But in our country, a person is innocent until proven guilty. And whatever crime he committed, that should be handled in a court room. It should be handled by a jury. If there’s going to be a punishment, it should be imposed by a judge. But when he’s gunned down, the entire process, our entire system is turned on its head. Because there is no trial, there is no jury, there is no judge, there is just the death penalty. And, the absolute worst part of this, is that a person that was undeniably completely blameless, lost her life. Where’s the responsibility?
And, this is not something that is a liberal philosophy, this is not something that is coming from a person that doesn’t like officers. This is their training. This is their exact training. We actually got you a training bulletin – you can read it, you can see everything they did wrong in there. They have rules for dealing with someone with a knife.
So, having said that, we’re here because we want to make a difference, and we’re here because we want this to not happen to someone else.