Mother of Mentally Ill Woman Killed by Phoenix Police Files $7 Million Claim Against City
A woman holding a photo of Michelle Cusseaux in front of Cusseaux's casket.
The mother of a mentally ill woman who was fatally shot last year by a Phoenix police officer is seeking $7 million from the city.
A notice of claim filed by attorneys for Frances Garrett contends that the officer who shot her daughter, 50-year-old Michelle Cusseaux, mishandled the situation leading up to the shooting and was "unreasonable" in his decision to shoot her.
In the event that the city denies the claim, a lawsuit against the city will likely follow.
Cusseaux was fatally shot by Phoenix Police Sergeant Percy Dupra on August 14 after police say she threatened officers with a hammer when they went to serve a court order to deliver Cusseaux to a mental-health facility. Earlier that day, Cusseaux had called a mental-health facility where she'd been many times before and made comments that a manager there felt were threatening, which led to the order for an involuntary evaluation of Cusseaux.
Not long after Dupra arrived on the scene, he ordered another officer to pick the lock on a security door to Cusseaux's apartment, after which Cusseaux opened the interior door holding a hammer above her head. Cusseaux took a couple of steps toward the officers and was shot by Dupra. She was pronounced dead at a hospital about half an hour later.
The shooting became exceptionally controversial for the department, as family members and activists brought Cusseaux's body to Phoenix City Hall and demanded a full external investigation into the shooting. The investigation was ordered by then-Police Chief Daniel Garcia, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety took over.
The shooting of Cusseaux led city leaders, including Mayor Greg Stanton, to seek changes to how the police department handles its interactions with mentally ill people. The city created a permanent task force to address the issue, Chief Garcia called for more training, and promised future changes -- although Garcia's since been fired.
Now, Frances Garrett's attorneys from the local Rake Law Group allege Dupra erred in shooting Cusseaux.
"He either had not received the appropriate training or he chose to ignore the training he had received," the attorneys write in the claim.
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The attorneys cite the training video that Phoenix police officers are required to watch, which stresses taking things slowly, not escalating a situation, and not treating it as a typical police encounter.
"Sergeant Dupra used lethal deadly force on Michelle when he could have easily receded," the claim says. "He could have taken the necessary time to communicate with Michelle in order to build trust and alleviate her fears."
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