The family of a hostage killed by Stockton police during a shootout with bank robbers has filed a claim against the city, a preliminary step to a lawsuit, their attorney announced Wednesday.
The family of Misty Holt-Singh, 42, argues that Stockton officers did not follow their own department procedures when they confronted the robbers as they exited a Bank of the West on July 17, said attorney Greg Bentley.
According to investigators, one of the robbers saw an officer outside the bank and went back inside. The robber and his two accomplices then emerged with three hostages, including Holt-Singh. They stole a bank employee's car and drove off.
Over the next hour, officers with the California Highway Patrol and Stockton police gave chase across three counties. Two hostages were wounded and ejected from the vehicle but Holt-Singh stayed until the chase reached its violent conclusion.
Stockton police fired more than 600 rounds at the car during the chase and struck Holt-Singh 10 times. Authorities said Holt-Singh was used as a human shield during the ensuing shootout, which left two of the three bank robbers also dead.
The department's protocol requires only two or three cars to give chase and that officers are supposed to go into bank robbery situations "with stealth" so the robbers aren't alerted and take hostages, Bentley argued. But officers confronted the robbers immediately after they exited the bank and a host of cars gave chase when they fled, Bentley said.
"It was the exact conduct these policies and procedures are made to prevent. It created a hostage situation," Bentley said. "They failed in their responsibilities."
The family's investigation shows that 34 officers discharged their weapons.
In a statement after Bentley's press conference, Stockton City Atty. John Luebberke said the city will wait until an independent investigation into the robbery and chase is completed before deciding how to respond to the Holt-Singh family's claim.
Nevertheless, he defended the officers' actions that day. He said it was already a hostage situation when the first officers were spotted by the robbers, "who were intent on violence, firing hundreds of rounds from automatic weapons and showing every potential for taking their rampage to any number of locations."
"To suggest that officers should have hidden, and allowed the suspects to leave with their hostage is not reasonable, in our view," Luebberke said. "The officers acted to stop this threat, and did so with bravery. That the pursuit ended with the tragic death of an innocent hostage is profoundly sad."
Bentley's critique is echoed in a claim filed last week by one of the surviving hostages, Kelly Huber, an employee at the bank.
Huber said than an officer negligently interrupted the bank robbery and caused the subsequent kidnapping and shooting. Police weren't prepared to contain the robbers before confronting them and didn't wait until she and the other two hostages were free before trying to capture the suspects, which only made the situation more dangerous, Huber said in her claim.
Huber was shot in both legs and broke a bone in the incident. She's seeking unspecified damages.
In December, a Northern California grand jury indicted Jaime Ramos, 20, and Pablo Ruvalcaba, 21, in connection with the robbery. Authorities say Ramos was the surviving gunman and Ruvalcaba was the driver who dropped the gunmen off at the bank.