Delia McElfresh, the mother of actress Vanessa Marquez, who was killed in the early afternoon of Aug. 30, 2018 by South Pasadena police during a “wellness” check at her second-floor apartment on Fremont Ave, has reached a $450,000 settlement. The city, which made the announcement Feb. 2, said its risk pool will pay “most of the cost” of the litigation and settlement.
McElfresh filed the wrongful death suit last June against the city and seven police officers seeking $20 million in damages, charging negligence, unlawful entry, excessive force, inadequate training, municipal liability, and others.
Marquez was alone in bed at her apartment when police came to check up on her in response to a call from a friend. After speaking with her, they concluded she needed help and decided to take her to a hospital, despite Marquez’ protestations. She ultimately displayed what turned out to be a fake gun, sending the officers in retreat. As they called to her from the foyer below, she emerged from her door and pointed the weapon at them, according to the official account, whereupon she was shot to death.
Supporters of the former ER actress who had a part in the movie Stand and Deliver, rallied in her support, and argued police mishandled the situation.
The Marquez shooting is “exactly the kind of lethal and unnecessary police action that has led so many in the country to call out for police reform,” said Vicki Sarmiento, the attorney representing McElfresh when the lawsuit was filed. “Ms. Marquez was in her home minding her own business and instead of receiving assistance from medical professionals she was shot to death.”
“Any loss of life is tragic,” South Pasadena Mayor Diana Mahmud said in a statement. “However I can now report the parties have reached a mutually agreeable settlement” that will spare the parties “the costs associated with protracted litigation.”
Wednesday, Sarmiento declined to say how the settlement came about, how the amount was determined or to discuss its other terms. But she confirmed it will settle the complaints her client filed in both county and federal court.
A decision on whether to continue litigating or to settle depends on what the client can “stomach and endure,” Sarmiento said. McElfresh’s “advanced age”—she will be 81 soon; the uncertainty of where the case now stands; the fact that one party is out-of-state; and the likelihood that a trial can’t get underway before 2022–were all factors. “That’s a tough decision to make and as her lawyers, we have to leave it up to the client to make that choice.”
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office on March 1 determined that the officers who shot Marquez, Christopher Perez and Gilberto Carrillo, “acted in lawful self-defense and defense of others.”
An internal investigation by the South Pasadena Police Department South Pasadena Police Department concluded the officers’ actions complied with policy.
Sarmiento said while the city maintains it “did everything right” during the incident, “that is certainly questionable. To the extent the lawsuit raised the level of discussion and awareness about how the city responds during medical welfare checks, then McElfresh is satisfied,” she said. “A lawsuit puts the city on notice” so if it happens again, it’s harder for the city to say it was unaware of the issue, namely, “that there was an overmilitarized response.”
Mayor Mahmud recently said one of her priorities this year is the establishment of a regional mobile mental health crisis response unit. Police Chief Brian Solinsky recently said both the county and San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments are working on such a program.
On Jan. 20, the City Council approved a set of recommendations from its Public Safety Commission for police reform, including the establishment of “a more effective response to crises involving mental illness.”