The first civil case against the New York police officer in over a decade kicked off Monday, with the family of Mauricio Jaquez arguing his rights were violated when he was fatally shot during a stand off.
NYPD Sgt. William Flores was sued for his role in Jaquez's death after officers responded to reports of him threatening his wife with a knife inside their Bronx apartment on April 12, 2009.
Officers were able to get Jaquez's wife, daughter, and two sons out of the building while he remained inside and continued to rant about someone trying to kill him. After an hour, he came toward to the door where Flores and other members of the Emergency Services Unit were staged. One of the officers tasered Jaquez, but it failed to subdue him. At that point, Jaquez retreated to the back of the apartment.
Flores and the other officers confronted Jaquez, who police claim had retrieved the six-inch fishing knife that he was wielding earlier. According to police, Jaquez then attacked the officers with the knife, and became locked in a struggle with NYPD Det. David McNamee inside the apartment’s bathroom.
The officers tasered Jaquez several more times and shot him with rubber bullets, but when that didn’t stop him, and fearing that he was about to stab McNamee, Flores and Det. Raymond Morrissey fired five rounds at Jaquez, hitting him four times.
Even then, police claim Jaquez continued to not yield, and started to push himself up. Flores then fired the final shot to Jaquez’s head. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a Bronx hospital.
Now, nearly seven years later, the family’s civil lawsuit has reached the trial stage.
It is a unique case in a number of ways. For one, civil lawsuits involving the NYPD rarely reach trial — they are almost always settled or dismissed. In fact, this is the first such trial in New York City in more than 10 years.
Making the case even more unique, a judge last year ruled that the officers were justified in firing the first five shots during the struggle with Jaquez and granted the police qualified immunity. That ruling made Flores, who fired the final shot to the head, the lone defendant. On Monday, the judge reminded the jury of four women and three men that the “other four shots are not on trial on here.”
During his opening statement, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, began by telling the jury about Jaquez’s mental state and the strange things he was saying leading up to and during the altercation.
“He was becoming increasingly psychotic,” Margulis-Ohnuma said. "He was seeing things" and "getting in a paranoid delusional way.”
On the knife, Margulis-Ohnuma said Jaquez was “fighting the demons off with it” and “protecting [his family] from his own delusions.”
Jaquez was not threatening his family and they weren’t afraid of him, Margulis-Ohnuma added.
The plaintiffs also stipulated that Jaquez had been drinking and using cocaine the night before.
While not able to present the other four bullet wounds as evidence of excessive force, Margulis-Ohnuma was able to offer some background on the shots during opening statements.
He told the jury that prior to the shot to head, at least one of the bullets did “devastating damage” to Jaquez. That shot, which hit Jaquez in the arm, then went through a kidney, his liver, and severed his aorta.
“That’s the shot that probably killed him,” Margulis-Ohnuma said, calling the shot to the head “unthinkable.”
However, Flores’ attorney, Shira Sirskind, argued that shots fired were necessary because Jaquez “kept coming.”
The defense would offer evidence that Jaquez even bent his knife while stabbing at the shields and body armor of the police, Sirskind said.
The defense also claimed that when officers encountered Jaquez in the apartment he had his wife, Ana Martinez, in a headlock and was threatening to kill her.
Jaquez was also “really sweaty,” indicative of alleged drug use, Sirskind added, telling jurors that officers only opened fire because he had his knife to McNamee’s neck.
The plaintiffs called their first major witness on Monday — Jaquez’s 18-year-old daughter Nicole, who was 11 at the time of the incident.
Nicole, who first encountered her parents that morning in the family’s dining room, told the jury that they were talking when she noticed her father “was shaking and his face was red.”
“I wasn’t scared, just confused. I never seen my dad like that before,” she said.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys played the two 911 calls that were made that morning. During the second call, Martinez hands the phone to her 11-year-old daughter and Nicole can be heard telling the dispatcher the family’s address amid raised voices in the background.
Martinez cried quietly in the courtroom as the tapes played.
Nicole Jaquez also appeared to become emotional when attorneys showed her a photo of the bathroom after the altercation between her father and the NYPD and asked her if it looked different.
“The toilet seat wasn’t broken and there wasn’t blood,” she said.
During cross-examination, Nicole admitted to inconsistencies between her trial testimony on Monday and the deposition she gave in September 2014, such as her assertion that her parents weren't arguing that morning.
She had also earlier testified that she was, in fact, afraid.
The trial will continue Tuesday in Manhattan federal court when the jury is expected to hear from Sgt. Flores about the incident, the final shot, and the major reason that the judge decided that this case deserved to be heard by a jury: because Flores said during his deposition that when he took the final shot he did not believe that Jaquez was a threat to his life.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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