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Children Of Hostage Killed By LAPD File Wrongful Death Claims Against City And Police

Elizabeth Tollison was fatally shot by Los Angeles Police Department officers after being taken hostage by a knife-wielding man outside a Van Nuys church on June 16, 2018. (Photo courtesy The Cochran Firm)
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ByAaron Mendelson and Ryan Fonseca

The family of a homeless woman fatally shot by police last month while she was being held hostage by a knife-wielding man said Wednesday that they'd filed claims against the Los Angeles Police Department and the city of L.A.

The announcement of a claim came the day after LAPD Chief Michel Moore gave a detailed account of the June 16 incident outside a Van Nuys church.

Elizabeth Tollison, 49, of Gardena, was standing outside the church where homeless outreach services are available during a standoff between police and a man, later identified as Guillermo Perez.

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Perez allegedly had already attacked his ex-girlfriend with a knife. After LAPD officers arrived on the scene, he grabbed Tollison and put the knife to her throat.

Attorney Brian Dunn, who is representing three adult children of Tollison, said he believed police at the scene failed to follow well-established tactics. Dunn said it should have been obvious based on the actions of Perez, who was also killed in the shooting, that he was mentally ill, using drugs or both.

Dunn compared the confrontation between Perez and police to a volcano that gets hotter and hotter, with the police failiing to try to cool it down. And he said it should have been clear that shooting at Perez while he held Tollison hostage with a knife to her face would endanger her life too.

"It is illogical and inconceivable for an officer on the scene to not realize that she will certainly be shot if 18 rounds are fired," Dunn said, "and they're fired from opposite directions."

Dunn and other attorneys with the Cochran Firm filed claims for wrongful death, assault and battery, and negligence against the city of L.A. and the LAPD. Dunn said Tollison's family saw her regularly and had been trying to get her off the street.

Jesse Pelaez, the son of a woman killed by police gunfire, speaks at a news conference announcing his family has filed a wrongful death claim against the LAPD and the city of L.A.

Her son Jesse Pelaez read a short statement at the news conference.

"It hurts me so much, knowing I'll never see, talk or listen to my mother again because the police didn't know how to handle a situation properly," Pelaez said. "I hope the police get stricter on their training and protocols so this doesn't happen to anyone else."

According to the LAPD, which released video of the incident Tuesday, three LAPD officers fired 18 rounds, killing Perez. But two of the bullets struck Tollison as well. She was taken to a hospital, where she died two days later, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner.

This still from an LAPD officer's body camera shows police right before they fired on a man holding a woman hostage with a knife. They fatally shot both the man and the hostage. (Image courtesy LAPD via Youtube)
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An LAPD release issued June 26, ten days after the shooting, identified the three officers as Eugene Damiano, Andrew Trock and Cristian Bonilla, all assigned to the Van Nuys Division. The release states that the victim, later identified as Tollison, "was admitted to the hospital in critical condition."

It also said: "Tragically, Perez's hostage was also struck by gunfire and collapsed."

The news release did not explicitly say she had been shot by officers or that she had died.

Settlements involving police shootings have been some of the steepest paid out by the city. A KPCC investigationfound that between July 2004 through June 2015, almost half of all city settlements were linked to LAPD cases. Those cases included everything from wrongful death to traffic accidents and totaled nearly $300 million. At least $40 million of those settlements were made in claims involving dozens of LAPD shootings, 22 of them fatal.


4:38 p.m.: This story updated with details of previous police shooting settlements.

4:23 p.m.: This story updated with details from the news conference.

This article was originally published at 9:27 a.m.

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