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Criminal Justice

Family Of Man Killed By Anaheim Police Files Lawsuit Claiming Unreasonable Force

Brandon Lopez is smiling with his son, Sonny, next to him. They both wear yellow paper hats that say 'Wing Man' on them. A juke box and TVs are lit up behind them.
Brandon Lopez (L) with his son, Sonny.
(Courtesy Lopez family )
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The family of a man who was shot and killed by Anaheim police in September is suing the city for allegedly using unreasonable force and poor tactics.

Brandon Lopez’ cousin, Santa Ana City Councilmember Johnathan Hernandez, told Spectrum News the 33-year-old was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was shot by four Anaheim officers after a car chase and a long standoff.

Body camera video released by the Anaheim Police Department shows that officers shot Lopez when he exited his car holding a black bag and they mistakenly thought he had a gun. Lopez was unarmed.

The city argues the officers acted “responsibly” based on their fear that Lopez had a gun.

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The body cam footage was part of an edited video produced by the Anaheim Police Department that also includes stills and radio communication between police leading up to the shooting.

Anaheim Police Sgt. Jacob Gallacher said in the video that Lopez was suspected of stealing a car, and after a records search, officers found three active warrants for his arrest, including for armed robbery and domestic violence. The ensuing vehicle chase led to a more than three-hour standoff at a construction site in Santa Ana.

The Video Shows 'A Militarized Response'

The video also includes audio of a Santa Ana officer reporting that a member of the Lopez family said Lopez desired “suicide by cop.”

During the standoff, Santa Ana police arrived on the scene in an armored vehicle, with at least one officer equipped with an automatic rifle. Anaheim SWAT also responded, and can be seen eventually throwing a flash-bang grenade into Lopez’s car.

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After the flash-bang grenade goes off, Lopez exits the car holding the black bag, and officers can be heard saying “gun, gun, gun” before shooting him several times.

“If you looked at the video, you see it’s a militarized response,” said Lopez family lawyer Vicki Sarmiento. “And I don’t think that lends itself to somebody saying ‘Okay, I’m just going to come out because I’m going to be treated peacefully.’”

Sarmiento said Councilmember Hernandez was on scene for part of the standoff and had offered to talk with Lopez.

“This appears to be another case of law enforcement using unnecessary deadly force against an unarmed person,” Dale Galipo, a second attorney representing the Lopez family, said in a statement. “Law enforcement officers need better training on deescalating situations and using less than lethal options under circumstances as those present in this incident.”

The city of Anaheim “disagrees with how the incident is being portrayed,” spokesman Mike Lyster said in a pre-recorded audio statement. He said the officers acted “responsibly with a reasonable fear of what was made to appear as a gun.”

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Sarmiento said the Lopez family was looking forward to celebrating his 34th birthday at Disneyland in December. Lopez is survived by four children.

The California Department of Justice is investigating the Lopez case with the help of its new shooting investigation teams that independently probe fatal law enforcement shootings of unarmed people, as required by a new state law, AB 1506.

The lawsuit comes just as multiple unarmed mental health crisis response initiatives launch in Orange County, including Huntington Beach and Irvine.

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Robert Garrova is reporting on the intersection of mental health and law enforcement.