EL PASO, Texas - The parents of an El Paso man shot in the back by an El Paso police officer have filed a civil rights lawsuit against three police officers and the City of El Paso.
Mando Kenneth Gomez, a 10-year veteran with EPPD, allegedly shot and killed 22-year-old Erik Emmanuel Salas Sanchez on April 29, 2015. A grand jury indicted Gomez for manslaughter earlier this year.
"The EPPD has a persistent and widespread practice of officers using excessive, deadly or intermediate force against El Pasoans when they are on notice of a victim's mental health issues," the lawsuit states, "Those practices are so widespread ... they demonstrate the EPPD policymaker's deliberate indifference toward El Pasoans' constitutional rights."
ABC-7 obtained a court document stating Gomez recklessly caused the death of Salas-Sanchez by shooting him in the back with a firearm. An EPPD spokesman confirmed that Gomez is still on the force and has been on administrative duty since the shooting.
The day of the shooting, police were called to a home in the 300 block of Jesuit in the Lower Valley. Gomez and Rivera were investigating a burglary reported by Luisa Yvette Romero, a neighbor of Salas-Sanchez.
Officers said they believed Salas-Sanchez was the suspect of the burglary, and attempted to talk to him. Sanchez then allegedly armed himself with a metal object and threatened to kill the officers, according to police.
An officer used a Taser on Salas-Sanchez to control him but it was not effective. Salas-Sanchez, still armed, allegedly charged at the officers, police said. That's when Gomez allegedly fired his weapon at Salas-Sanchez. He was transported to Del Sol Medical Center where he died from his injuries.
Celia Sanchez and Oscar Salas, Salas-Sanchez's parents, claim their son was shot and killed in front of them and in front of his newborn niece in a "brutal, unjustified shooting in violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights," according to the court document obtained by ABC-7.
The document lists Gomez, fellow police officers Alberto Rivera and Pamela Smith; and the City of El Paso as defendants.
The lawsuit states that prior to the shooting, Salas-Sanchez had been taking an anti-depressant and had been "exhibiting signs of mental health issues."
The document further states Romero, the woman who reported the burglary, told the officers she did not wish to press charges and that at no point did she feel "Erik was a threat to her or her family."
The officers spoke with Salas-Sanchez's mother after speaking with Romero. The mother reportedly told the officers her son had been acting strange and believed the officers could provide help finding her son mental health assistance.
During the conversation, Salas-Sanchez began calling out to his mother from inside their home. Salas-Sanchez reportedly told the officers to leave because "they had no right to be at his home." The lawsuit states Salas-Sanchez did not have any weapons and did not threaten police.
"After an extended period of time speaking with Mrs. Sanchez, and frustrated by Erik's insistence they leave the home, Defendant Officers pushed Mrs. Sanchez out of the way and entered the home," the lawsuit states.
The officers did not have a warrant, nor the consent of the residents of the home, to enter the residence, the document states. The officers pulled out their guns and pointed the weapons at Salas-Sanchez, who reportedly tried to evade officers inside the home.
"Officer Rivera attempted to tase Erik ... the taser connected with Erik's clothing and did not make full contact," the document states, "As Erik moved into a back hallway with his back to Defendant Gomez, Defendant Gomez immediately shot five rounds of ammunition at Erik."
"Defendant officers kicked Erick's limp body and handcuffed him," the document states, "(The officers) did not attempt any emergency resuscitation as they waited for first responders. No firearm, knife, or any other weapon was found at the scene."
The lawsuit accuses the El Paso Police Department of "presenting misinformation to the public" that "mis-characterized the events leading to Erick's death." Salas-Sanchez did not charge at officers and was not shot while burglarizing a home, the lawsuit states, he was shot inside his own home.
The lawsuit states that in the 15 years prior to 2012, there "had been at least 32 incidents reported in which El Paso police officers used excessive deadly force. From 2012, to 2016, EPPD officers utilized excessive deadly or intermediate force at 21 times, 14 of which resulted in deaths." Half of those deaths involved unarmed victims, the document states.
"In 2016, the percentage of shootings by EPPD officers involving unarmed victims was more than 250% higher than the national rate," the lawsuit claims.
Of the shooting deaths reported by EPPD to the Texas Attorney General in between 2012 and 2016, "the department classified all but one as a 'justified homicide' ... none of the shootings, including those involving unarmed victims, were classified as 'unjustified homicide,'" the document states.
The lawsuit claims EPPD does not hold officers accountable for the killing of unarmed victims, thereby "creating a culture where officers use excessive deadly force with impunity."
The plaintiff are demanding a trial by jury and are seeking compensatory damages as well as the recovery of attorney fees.