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Family claims Long Beach police used excessive force in killing of mentally disabled man

The family of a mentally disabled man shot and killed by Long Beach police last year claims officers used excessive force during the deadly clash in an arcade, according to a legal claim filed Thursday.

Mharloun Saycon, 39, was seated in a chair when Long Beach police officers used an electric stun weapon and hit him with batons before ultimately shooting him inside Looff's Lite-A-Line on Dec. 14, according to a notice of claim filed by Saycon's relatives. A legal claim is usually a precursor to a lawsuit.

The family also called on the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to prosecute the officers involved in Saycon's death, according to the document. Officers knew that Saycon suffered from a mental disability, the document said.

"There was absolutely no need for this use of lethal force," the notice of claim read. "Neither the officer nor anyone else was in danger."

The day after the shooting, Long Beach police said in a statement that two officers were responding to reports of a knife-wielding man at the arcade and that several customers had left the store in fear for their safety.

Saycon ignored several orders to drop the knife, according to police, and attempts to subdue him with a Taser and batons failed. One of the officers opened fire, and Saycon was pronounced dead at the scene.

The family, however, contends in the legal claim that there was no panic inside the arcade, and said the staff was familiar with Saycon. They also claimed the officers were told Saycon suffered from a mental disability but failed to de-escalate the situation. 

"Mharloun was a good son, a gentle person," his mother, Anna Luz Saycon, said in a statement. "He lived at home, and he took care of me. He'd call me at work and say 'Mom, you rest, I'll cook dinner.' I love him so much. I can't believe he's gone."

Asked whether Saycon disobeyed police orders on the day of the shooting, an attorney representing the family said Saycon was seated and confused when police arrived.

The attorney, Dan Stormer, called Saycon's death a "police-created killing." Several witnesses who called 911 from the arcade told police that Saycon was not a threat, according to Stormer, who said police have refused to release 911 recordings related to the case.

Saycon emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1985. He was an athlete and honor student at Santa Monica High School and attended Santa Monica College before he was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia in his early 20s, his family said during a Thursday news conference outside the Long Beach Police Department's headquarters.

According to the notice of claim, the incident began when an arcade employee noticed Saycon was scratching a three-inch knife against a table. The employee asked Saycon to put the blade away, and he complied, according to the claim.

Saycon remained in the building, and another employee eventually called police and asked for help escorting the 39-year-old from the premises.

In the claim, the family alleges that officers used a Taser against Saycon as soon as they arrived, without giving him any verbal commands. The family claims that an officer then struck Saycon with a baton, even though he wasn't resisting.

Seconds later, the family said, an officer "immediately" opened fire on Saycon. He was struck eight times in the arm, chest and abdomen, according to the claim.

"During this whole incident, Mharloun never waved the knife around, did not point it at anyone, and never threatened anyone with it," the notice of claim said.

The claim did not specify whether Saycon was holding the knife when police arrived.

A Long Beach police spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. The officer involved in Saycon's death has not been identified, and the spokesman declined to release the name without the filing of a public records request. 

It was not clear whether the officer who shot Saycon has returned to active duty.

The agency drew criticism and protests last year following two other fatal police shootings.

In April 2015, a police officer responding to a report about vandalism shot and killed 19-year-old Hector Morejon. Police said the officer believed Morejon was pointing a gun at him, but no weapons were recovered at the scene.

Several weeks later, an officer shot and killed Feras Morad, a Moorpark College student who had competed nationally in high school speech and debate contests. Morad, 20, had an adverse reaction after taking hallucinogenic mushrooms, according to a cousin, and either fell or leapt through a plate-glass window.

An officer found Morad covered in blood and offered to help him, but Morad advanced and fought with the officer, police said. The officer tried to subdue Morad, who was not armed, by using a stun gun and striking him with a flashlight, before firing the fatal shot, the department said at the time.

Morad's family filed a wrongful death suit against the city late last year, days after Saycon was killed. 

Prosecutors are reviewing the shooting deaths of both Morad and Morejon. A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said the agency has not received information about Saycon's death.

The officers involved in Morad and Morejon's shootings have both returned to active duty, according to a Long Beach police spokesman.

Nine people were shot by Long Beach police officers last year. Four of them died.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in Southern California.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

12:22 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from the attorney representing the Saycon family.

10:47 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information about Saycon's medical history and comments from his family.

This article was first published at 10:04 a.m.

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