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San Gabriel Valley Tribune
EL MONTE >> A judge has ordered the El Monte Police Department to turn over the personnel records of two police officers involved in the death of a schizophrenic man in 2012.
Khoa Anh Le, 36, died in police custody following a struggle with El Monte police officers, who had been called to Le’s house by his family.
The family is now suing the city and Officers Victor Ruiz and Jesus Rojas, along with Police Chief Steve Schuster, alleging that Le was murdered by the officers, according to court documents.
As part of that civil wrongful death suit, the family’s attorney requested the officers’ confidential personnel records be released, arguing the officers may have a relevant history of excessive force, the family’s attorney Alex Galindo said. Last week, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge obliged the request.
Under the ruling, certain disciplinary, personnel and internal affairs records will be released, particularly records regarding allegations of misconduct, administrative violations, use of force reports, performance evaluations and reports of injuries to people the officers arrested.
The documents will be inspected by the judge, who will then determine if any of the information is relevant to the case and should be released to attorneys, Galindo said.
Despite the family’s allegations, Ruiz and Rojas were cleared of any wrongdoing by the District Attorney’s Office. The district attorney reviewed an investigation conducted by the Sheriff’s Department into the incident and determined no criminal wrongdoing had been committed.
Police were called to Le’s home June 14, 2012, after an altercation between Le and his father, according to Galindo and the lawsuit. In their lawsuit, the family said police harassed and taunted Le, who was calm and cooperative by the time they arrived. The family alleges Le became confused by commands from Ruiz, who proceeded to strike him in the head, causing him to fall to ground. The lawsuit alleges Ruiz then began to choke Le, while Rojas struck him with a baton and kicked him in the head. As this occurred, Le “repeatedly apologized and said ‘I’m sorry’ at least 15 times” and “begged for help,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that officers either knew or should have known that Le was mentally ill, since police dispatch operators told the officers that Le suffered from schizophrenia and was not known to do drugs or carry weapons.
“Even though Khoa Anh Le could have been restrained with the use of less than lethal control holds and handcuffs, the defendant officers, and each of them, used deadly force by striking Khoa Anh Le repeatedly in the head and face, causing multiple head injuries,” according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys representing the city argue that Le was clearly fighting back and resisting the officers at various times during the incident.
They acknowledge that force was used but say it was not excessive. And they cite reports from witnesses, including in Le’s family, who said Le was fighting back, yelling and “being combative,” according to court documents.
“All the evidence shows that the officers were only responding/reacting” to Le, the city responds in court documents.
And the city’s attorneys say that the request to see the officers’ personnel records is “nothing short of a fishing expedition,” according to court documents.
“Quite obviously Plaintiffs now seek to create liability where none likely exists and thus they seek/require an excuse to gain access to the confidential files of the two named El Monte officers,” the city’s response reads.
Galindo said he is not aware of any specific complaints against the officers, which is why he requested the records.
“If there is a prior act of excessive force, oftentimes there are complaints from citizens, and those complaints go nowhere. They get swept under the rug. I don’t know how thick the rug is at El Monte police station,” he said.
The attorneys representing El Monte did not return calls requesting additional comment.
In its autopsy of Le, the L.A. County Coroner determined Le died as a result of heart disease coupled with “restraint maneuvers” used by police.
Los Angeles County Deputy Medical Examiner Ajay J. Panchal, who performed the autopsy, could not determine whether Le’s death was natural, accidental, homicide or suicide.
When paramedics arrived at the scene, Le was found lying on the driveway in “full arrest,” according to the autopsy report. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Contributing factors to Le’s death also included a liver disease and high levels of the anti-depressant Zoloft, Panchal wrote.
Supporters of the Le family held a rally at City Hall on Nov. 26, demanding the city fully investigate the incident and implement changes in how it handles the mentally ill.
The city is conducting an internal administrative investigation, Schuster said. And it has implemented additional mental health training for officers. City leaders are also researching how such lethal outcomes can be avoided during interactions between police officers and the mentally ill.