The family of a Pacoima teenager filed suit on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Police Department, alleging that officers violated the boy's civil rights when they shot and killed him in a bizarre confrontation in November.
Felix Valenzuela Jr., 16, was unarmed, disoriented and naked, with cuts all over his body when he was approached about 4:26 a.m. Nov. 20 at San Fernando Road and Van Nuys Boulevard by LAPD Officers Karen Thiffault and Daniel Palma.
The teenager was acting in a bizarre manner, screaming unintelligibly and charging at Thiffault, police said.
Thiffault tried to get away, but Valenzuela allegedly reached for, and at least once grabbed, her holstered service revolver, police said. Fearing for her life, and believing Valenzuela was under the influence of PCP, Thiffault fired three rounds at the teenager.
An autopsy found traces of LSD in Valenzuela's body, the coroner reported.
The suit alleges that Thiffault and Palma "employed flawed and substandard tactics." It also said those tactics were the result of inadequate LAPD training in how officers should handle unarmed suspects who are mentally ill or under the influence of drugs.
Attorneys for the family compared Valenzuela's shooting to that of Margaret Mitchell, a mentally ill homeless woman killed by police last year.
By a narrow vote Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission found that the fatal shooting of Mitchell violated department policy. The vote supported the conclusion of an investigation by Inspector General Jeffrey C. Eglash.
"This case needs to get the scrutiny the Margaret Mitchell case has gotten," said Gregory Moreno, the Valenzuela family's attorney.
"The bottom line is these people are mentally ill," Moreno said. "Let's get a game plan how to get these people down without killing them."
LAPD Cmdr. David Kalish, a department spokesman, declined to comment other than to say the department's Robbery-Homicide Division is still investigating the shooting and has not issued a report.
The Valenzuela suit also alleges a pattern of police abuse of minorities that the LAPD and city have encouraged by "overlooking the repeated misconduct and criminal acts by their subordinate officers . . . ."
And it claims the two officers "willfully withheld or delayed emergency medical attention" for Valenzuela.
At the time of the shooting, Thiffault, 38, an officer with 12 years on the force, was training her partner, Palma, a rookie four months out of the police academy, according to authorities.
Because the youth was naked and unarmed, family members have questioned why the officers did not use nonlethal means to subdue him.
"It was wrong what the LAPD did. They killed my brother," said Ezequiel Valenzuela, 23. "He was totally naked and they just shot him.
"A deadly weapon is the last resort, but that was the first thing that officer lady went to. They didn't use anything else but a gun," he said.
The youth's father said no matter what mistakes his son made, he did not deserve to die the way he did.
"To a parent, all their children are good. . . . He was never a bad son to us," said Felix Valenzuela Sr., 47, a construction worker.
The father said he remembered his son working with him in construction work. "He was a good worker. He could compete with any adult," he said.
Valenzuela said his wife wept when she didn't hear from her son, "fearing the worst had happened."
"You see, the worst did happen. . . . I worry about my wife; she'll get a strange look on her face like she's not here," he said.
The Valenzuelas decided to file the lawsuit in hopes of preventing future incidents, the son said.
"In this country, apparently the only way to get justice is to sue somebody, to let people know what's going on," Ezequiel Valenzuela said.