Family of man fatally shot by LAPD files wrongful-death lawsuit against L.A. and police officers
The family of 22-year-old Margarito Lopez Jr. filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Monday against the city of Los Angeles and the two Los Angeles Police Department officers who fatally shot the man after his sister called 911 because she was afraid her brother might hurt himself.
Sonia Torres wanted help for her brother because she thought he was in the middle of a mental health crisis on Dec. 18. Lopez came home that day acting erratically, and when his father got him out of their restroom, Lopez pulled out a butcher knife and went outside.
When LAPD officers arrived in the Historic South-Central neighborhood, they shot and killed Lopez.
“I don’t want another family to go through this,” Lopez’s sister Juana said in Spanish during a news conference Tuesday with the family’s attorneys.
In recent shootings, LAPD officers have repeatedly fired live rounds and ‘less lethal’ alternatives simultaneously, without allowing the less-lethal rounds to take effect first.
Police arrived at the Lopez home shortly after 7 p.m. and established a barrier with their vehicles. They drew their handguns and directed their cruiser lights at Margarito Lopez Jr., according to body camera footage. Police found him on the front steps of his apartment building, and for nearly 10 minutes, they shouted commands at him to drop the knife in English and Spanish.
An officer, standing behind the door of his police cruiser, aimed his gun at Lopez and shouted in Spanish, “Just throw it to the ground. You don’t have to do this.”
“We are going to help you,” the unidentified officer shouted. He called Lopez “Junior,” picking up on the pleas from Lopez’s family, which could be heard screaming off camera.
Lopez held the knife to his throat and police fired a projectile at him, but he did not drop the knife and remained standing. A few minutes later, he paced the sidewalk, and as he turned around, officers simultaneously fired projectiles and their handguns at him.
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Lopez was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. A full investigation of the shooting is pending, according to the LAPD.
Police allege that Lopez approached them with the knife when he was shot, a point his family’s attorneys say is not true.
“If you look closely, what he did is he turns to his left, which is facing west at the moment that he was shot,” attorney Luis Carrillo said. “When he was shot, there was no threat to the lives of anybody. That’s a tragedy. Instead of helping a family, they killed a son and a brother.”
Victor Valencia, 31, was carrying a bicycle part that an LAPD sergeant mistook for a gun, the family’s lawsuit said.
Lopez was the youngest of 10 children and stood less than 5 feet tall. His family said he dreamed of being a singer and often danced on the front steps outside his home on East Adams Boulevard.
Officers José Zavala and Julio Quintanilla allegedly shot four rounds and three hit Lopez, Carrillo said. The family claimed excessive force, denial of medical care and more allegations in their complaint filed in federal court.
“What they did wasn’t right,” Torres said. “Instead of helping him, they just killed him. The only thing I want is justice.”
The LAPD declined to comment on the pending litigation.
A federal jury on Thursday awarded $1.5 million to a woman who was injured when an LAPD officer shot her with a 40mm projectile launcher during the Lakers’ 2020 championship celebration.
Times staff writers Kevin Rector and Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.
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