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Attorney: Settlement reached with city of Santa Fe in Benavidez shooting

November 20, 2018

A lawyer representing the family of a mentally ill man fatally shot by Santa Fe police in 2017 said plaintiffs have reached a tentative settlement with the city in a civil lawsuit that accuses multiple parties of negligence.

Shannon Kennedy , a lawyer representing the family of Anthony Benavidez, the man shot and killed by Santa Fe police officers during a SWAT standoff in July 2017 , said Benavidez’s family and the city have reached a $400,000 settlement. However, the paperwork to make the agreement official hasn’t yet been filed in Santa Fe County District Court.

A message left Sunday for a city spokesman was not immediately returned. The attorney representing the city could not be reached for comment.

Benavidez, 24, was shot multiple times by Santa Fe police officers and Jeramie Bisagna and Luke Wakefield during the call to his apartment. The lawsuit claims the city failed to train officers to deal with people suffering from mental illness. Benavidez was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen, Kennedy said.

Other parties in the lawsuit include Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, its parent company Christus Health and a doctor and counselor who work with the local emergency room.

Following the settlement, Kennedy said the lawsuit now will focus on Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, where Benavidez was seen the day before his death after he was taken by Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office deputies for a behavioral health evaluation.

The hospital released Benavidez in the care of a social worker, and he later returned to the apartment from which he’d been evicted, according to news reports.

The day after being released from the hospital, police say he injured a caseworker who went with them to help remove Benavidez from the apartment. A video provided by the police department shows the caseworker approach Benavidez’s door, followed by flurry of activity not visible from the officer’s body camera. The caseworker is seen jumping backward and running from the door. Police reports say Benavidez injured the man with a knife.

More police and a SWAT team responded to the apartment following the alleged assault and tried to negotiate with Benavidez, who police say had barricaded himself inside and was throwing homemade devices out his window.

Members of the SWAT team approached Benavidez’s window and broke it. Bisagna is seen on video firing 16 shots into the opening; Wakefield fired once. Other officers wrote in reports that they believed Benavidez had a knife.

Officer-involved shootings are reviewed by local district attorneys, who decide whether to levy criminal charges. First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna opted to appoint a panel of outside district attorneys to review the shooting. Sixteen months after the fatal shooting, that panel still has not announced whether charges will be filed.

Prosecutors told The New Mexican earlier this year that a lack of funding for the independent panel means district attorneys are volunteering their time for the reviews, and they don’t always happen quickly.

That has proven frustrating for Benavidez’s family.

“What the family wants is criminal prosecution for the officers,” Kennedy said.

Serna did not reply to calls on Friday asking when the panel of attorneys might announce decisions related to the criminal case.

Deputy Police Chief Robert Vasquez said in an email this week that the police department has reviewed the New Mexico State Police investigation into the shooting. The department will officially start an internal investigation into whether Bisagna and Wakefield abided by departmental standards during the encounter after the District Attorney’s Office makes a determination whether charges will be filed.

“It is an unfortunate event for the community of Santa Fe, the Benavidez family and the officers and their families,” Vasquez wrote in the email. “We ask the community to keep the Benavidez family and our officers and their families in their prayers. No officer, especially our officers in the Santa Fe Police Department want to be in a position to take an individual’s life to protect another.”

Kennedy said Benavidez’s family will push forward with the lawsuit in hopes it will help others get better mental health care.

“The family feels that the city of Santa Fe has taken responsibility for what happened and they want to protect others from what happened to Anthony,” she said.

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