The city of Baytown, Texas, failed to adequately train its officers on how to de-escalate situations involving people with mental illness, according a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city by the family of Pamela Turner on April 8.
Turner was fatally shot by officer Juan Delacruz in May 2019 as the officer was patrolling the parking lot of The Brixton Apartments.
Delacruz, the city of Baytown and Cypress Point Equity Partners, which manages the apartment complex where 44-year-old Tuner resided and was killed, are named defendants in the suit.
“What (Delacruz) did was not extend any consideration, any professionalism or any humanity to Pamela Turner,” said Benjamin Crump, the family’s layer, outside of a Houston courthouse.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages.
“Today is a very hard day for me and my family, as we should be celebrating my mom’s 46th birthday. Instead, we’re here once again in front of all of you, demanding justice for the life that was taken from her. Not only taken from her, but taken from us,” Turner’s daughter, Chelsie Rubin, said the day the suit was filed.
According to the lawsuit, the Brixton apartment complex manager made fun of Turner’s mental health issues and she broke his glasses and scratched him in response, which resulted in charges of misdemeanor criminal mischief and assault. When Turner failed to appear in court, two warrants were issued for her arrest.
According to Turner’s family, she suffered from schizophrenia and had received her diagnosis years prior.
Delacruz was patrolling the parking lot near Turner’s apartment building on the night of May 13 when he approached her because he knew there were warrants for her arrest. According to Crump, Turner was picking up trash off the ground at the time and putting it in the garbage bins, something she did often.
Footage of the incident recorded by a witness was widely circulated on social media at the time of the shooting.
“I’m walking, I’m actually walking to my house,” Turner told Delacruz in the video, “You’re actually harassing me.”
In a struggle, Delacruz deployed his Taser and Turner fell to the ground as the officer stood over her, when police claim she had gained possession of the Taser.
Delacruz then fired five shots. Turner was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the lawsuit, Delacruz, who also worked as a security officer at Brixton, tried to arrest Turner to help the apartment complex evict her. The suit alleges Turner had received an eviction notice that same day.
Turner allegedly feared Delacruz because he had previously threatened to shoot her.
The suit alleges that arresting Turner “would resolve Cypress Point and De la Cruz’s problem of where to send Turner when she was removed from her apartment.” It accuses Delacruz of excessive force and claims Cypress Point violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Turner because of her mental illness.
According to the suit, Baytown was aware that its officer were regularly helping to carry out evictions from private housing. The police department claimed Delacruz acted in self-defense because Turner had possession of the stun gun, but, according to Crump, the officer knew that his Taser could not be deployed a second time.
“He absolutely knew that Taser could not be fired again without her changing the cartridge,” Turner’s family’s attorney, Ben Crump, told Houston Public Media. “And he did not have to use deadly force while she was laying on her back.” Delacruz’s attorney has said the Taser still posed a threat because the officer could have been shocked if he stood on one of the deployed wires or if the woman has pressed the Taser against him.
In September, Delacruz was indicted by a Harris County grand jury on one charge of aggravated assault by a public servant. The officer has not been fired, and he faces up to five years to life in prison. He is scheduled to appear in court on May 25.
On May 13, which will mark two years since Turner’s death, Crump, Breonna Taylor’s mother, and a number of others, will march through Baytown, calling for accountability for Turner’s death.