Citizen “Shot Himself,” While Handcuffed in the Back of Cop’s Patrol Car: Lawsuit

Emma Gannon | Courthouse News Service

DENVER (CN) – A Colorado family doubts a sheriff’s story that their father shot himself in the back of a police car with his hands cuffed: they claim in court that an officer killed him.

Carlos Mendoza, 36, had two children and a third on the way when he was shot to death on July 28, 2015.

His children claim in a federal complaint that El Paso County sheriff’s officers responding to an anonymous request for a welfare check went to his home and confused him with one of two other Carlos Mendozas who had served time for felonies.

There was an active warrant from another county on one of the other Carlos Mendozas, who was 10 years older than the man who was about to die, his family says – but not for their late father.

The late Carlos Mendoza was wearing swimming trunks and a T-shirt when he was arrested. Officers searched him twice, and “there is no possibility of him having a gun hidden somewhere on his person that any competent law enforcement officer would not find,” the family says in the April 6 complaint.

Mendoza was shot in the chest and killed while the police car was stopped at a red light in Colorado Springs, according to the complaint.

“The officers claimed that somehow Mr. Mendoza got possession of one of their guns, while handcuffed in the backseat of their vehicle, and managed to shoot himself,” the complaint continues. “That would have been physically impossible. It would also have been impossible for Mr. Mendoza to have been armed with a gun or other weapon (he did not even own or possess a firearm) at the time of his arrest, and threatened the officers with a gun leading to them shooting him. The only way Mr. Mendoza to have been shot dead by the firearm of one of the arresting officers is if one of the arresting officers shot him. There was no justification for shooting Mr. Mendoza. He was not resisting arrest, he was not trying to escape, he was not trying to commit suicide, and he was not threatening the officers in any way.”

The Colorado Springs Gazette reported it as suicide, describing a standoff that lasted for hours, with Mendoza holding a gun to his own head in the back seat of the police cruiser.

The Sheriff’s Office told the Gazette that “on the way to jail he moved his handcuffed hands from behind his back to the front of his body,” according to the Gazette’s July 29, 2015 story.

“While handcuffed, Mendoza drew a handgun and pointed it at his head. The deputy saw this in her rearview mirror, pulled over, fled the vehicle and called for assistance,” the article continues.

An hours-long standoff then ensued, until Mendoza shot himself, the Gazette reported, citing numerous statements from sheriff’s officers.

The family says that’s not what happened. They describe a far calmer interaction from the beginning of the incident, with an officer rolling down the back seat window so Mendoza could kiss one of his babies goodbye. They say one of the officers “used excessive force by pulling out their gun and shooting him in the chest, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

They seek punitive damages.

El Paso County Sheriff’s Department declined comment.

The family’s lead attorney is Alison Ruttenberg, of Boulder.

Published by Courthouse News Service.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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