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Mother of Vanessa Marquez files wrongful death lawsuit against South Pasadena, police

 Vanessa Marquez in 1995
Vanessa Marquez in a publicity photo from 1995, when she was appearing as Nurse Wendy Goldman on the NBC show “ER.”
(Alice S. Hall / NBCU Photo Bank)

The mother of actress Vanessa Marquez has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of South Pasadena, six members of law enforcement and 15 other officers, sergeants and lieutenants in connection with her daughter’s August 2018 death.

The suit was filed Wednesday on behalf of Delia McElfresh in Los Angeles County Superior Court, following a claim filed last year. The suit disputes law enforcement’s claim that Marquez was shot during a wellness check when she brandished what officers believed to be a gun.

Marquez, known for her roles in the TV show “ER” and the movie “Stand and Deliver,” had a history of seizures. After a friend placed a call requesting the wellness check, police entered Marquez’s residence in the 1100 block of Fremont Avenue as she was having a seizure in her bedroom.

South Pasadena police were called to the apartment of “ER” actress Vanessa Marquez on Thursday afternoon at the request of her landlord, who was concerned about her welfare.

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According to a police body camera video, a medical specialist and a paramedic spoke to the 49-year-old following the seizure. Officers determined that she was a danger to herself and informed Marquez that she was being placed under a so-called 5150 hold to involuntarily take her to the hospital. Marquez protested and refused to be detained.

The body cam video shows Marquez reaching into a bag and pulling out what appeared to be a pair of scissors before reaching for another object.

A police officer is then heard in the video screaming that Marquez had a gun as he draws his own gun and retreats from the bedroom. At one point, Marquez is heard shouting what sounds like, “Kill me.”

Police retreat down the apartment stairs, shouting for Marquez to talk to them and drop the gun. Minutes later, Marquez emerges at the top of the staircase with an object in her hand. Police shout again for her to drop what she is holding before firing repeatedly.

According to police, a replica gun was found next to Marquez after she was shot.

The suit states that a police officer “falsely claimed” that Marquez pointed a gun at him and herself “as a pretext for shooting.”

“The situation called for de-escalation and there were multiple options available to the officers if they were in fact concerned for Ms. Marquez’s well-being,” according to the lawsuit. “There was no urgency to forcibly remove Ms. Marquez from her home. Instead of de-escalating the situation, more police officers stormed into her building,” including one with an AR-22 rifle.

South Pasadena officials are asking the public to be patient as authorities complete their investigation into the fatal police shooting of “ER” actress Vanessa Marquez at her home Thursday.

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According to the suit, Marquez was shot “when she was not facing the officers, when the officers were a safe distance away from her, and when there was no imminent threat of serious injury or death to the officers or others.”

In March, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office decided not to file criminal charges against two police officers involved in the shooting, determining that they acted legally in firing 12 rounds at Marquez.

In the months before her death, Marquez had posted on social media about her wish to die and her purchase of an air gun that resembled a Glock automatic pistol.

The suit asks for compensation for survival damages and wrongful death damages under federal and state law, in addition to costs to be determined at trial.

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Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.


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