Widow sues Thornton police for killing mentally ill husband — (The Denver Post)

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The Denver Post

By Noelle Phillips

Posted:   08/18/2015 02:48:04 PM MDT

The lawsuit accuses Thornton police of escalating a crisis

A widow with two young children has sued the Thornton Police Department for shooting and killing her mentally ill husband in March 2013.

Quianna Vigil called police for help in getting her husband, Jaime Ceballos, to leave the house. Multiple officers arrived and escalated the confrontation rather than using accepted practices for dealing with people in the midst of a crisis, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Denver.

The lawsuit names Thornton police Officer William Husk, Sgt. Dante Carbone and Chief Randy Nelson as defendants. It asks for an unspecified amount in damages.

Thornton police spokesman Matt Barnes said the department could not comment on pending litigation.

Jaime Ceballos with his daughter, Naveyah Ceballos. (Courtesy Quianna Vigil)

The lawsuit addresses a national issue over how police respond to people in the middle of a mental health crisis and when they decide to use force against them.

“They need to change the way they handle situations and get better training,” Vigil told The Denver Post. “It’s happening way too often, and it’s so unnecessary.”

When officers arrived at the family’s home, Ceballos, 31, was pacing in his driveway with a baseball bat. Vigil and her then-17-month-old daughter were waiting in a car, and two of Ceballos’ friends were outside after she had called them for help.

Vigil had told a dispatcher that her husband had not been taking his medication for depression and anxiety and possibly was using cocaine, the lawsuit said.

The previous night he had checked into a hospital but had walked out with an IV still attached to his arm. A Thornton officer who found him and drove him home responded to the scene when Vigil called for help, the lawsuit said.

The officers drew their weapons and closed in on Ceballos. He ignored orders to drop the bat. As officers drew closer, Ceballos challenged them to shoot him.

Jaime Ceballos (far right) with his daughter, Naveyah Ceballos, and his son, Jayden Ceballos (Courtesy Quianna Vigil)

Husk fired six shots, striking Ceballos in the chest. He died at the scene while officers, with guns still drawn, took pictures of his body in the driveway, the lawsuit said.

Police had been on the scene less than a minute, Vigil said.

The officer who had helped Ceballos the previous night was trying to obtain a less lethal weapon when the shooting happened, the lawsuit said.

In November 2013, the Adams County district attorney’s office ruled that Husk was justified in using lethal force, and criminal charges were not pursued. The district attorney’s decision letter said Ceballos also wielded a steak knife and had another knife in his pocket.

An autopsy report found Ceballos had high levels of methamphetamine and other narcotics in his system.

But the lawsuit claims officers should have taken more time and considered more options before pulling a trigger.

Officers should have tried to de-escalate the situation by requesting help from people trained in crisis intervention, keeping a distance from Ceballos, taking cover in their cars, turning off emergency lights and sirens, and allowing time to pass to their advantage, the lawsuit said.

It also accuses the department of failing to provide adequate training in de-escalation tactics. The department also does not have policies and procedures for dealing with a person in crisis.

Vigil said she hopes her lawsuit forces change and makes police response better for others who call for help.

“They made everything 1,000 times worse, not better,” she said.