The family of Henry Rivera, a man who was shot and killed by Phoenix police as he fled from them, unarmed, in 2019, is now suing the city of Phoenix.
The lawsuit was filed last week in Maricopa County Superior Court on behalf of four of Rivera's children. It names the two officers who shot Rivera and the city of Phoenix as defendants, alleging wrongful death.
Rivera was killed in the course of a manhunt after being surrounded by multiple officers from a Phoenix specialized tactical unit. But Rivera wasn’t the suspect they were searching for — and, as the lawsuit emphasizes, there was little reason for officers to think that he was.
At the time, Rivera’s case sparked outcry. But, according to the new lawsuit, the two officers that shot him — Kyle Fricke and Andrew Carlsson — were never disciplined over the incident. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office also declined to bring charges against them. Fricke had been involved in two other fatal shootings prior to Rivera, as the Arizona Republic later reported.
The suit highlights the role of Phoenix’s “lethal” tactical units in Rivera’s death: The city’s special assignments unit, the Rivera family’s attorneys argue, has a pattern of “deploying a high degree of force, without precautions for innocent persons." In this case, the attorneys wrote, the officers' actions "shock the conscience."
The incident began with a search by Phoenix police for Eddison Noyola, a man accused at the time of shooting three people and kidnapping his girlfriend. On March 12, 2019, Noyola’s name and face were blasted out in local media, alongside photos of his girlfriend, Andrea Dixon. “Noyola and Dixon,” one alert read, “have large, visible tattoos on their face.”
Noyola was later arrested. He pled guilty to second-degree murder. But first, Phoenix police would hunt down Rivera, another young, Hispanic man they had mistaken him for.
Rivera and his fiancee, Natalie Mejia, were staying at the Lamplighter Motel in Phoenix that March, along with Mejia’s young children. An erroneous tip about Noyola led police to their motel room, where Rivera, “overcome by fear,” locked himself in the bathroom while officers talked with Mejia. Per the lawsuit, officers failed to tell Natalie they were searching for Noyola or ask her whether she was with Noyola. Nor did they take note that Mejia did not resemble Dixon, the kidnapped girlfriend they were trying to locate — she had no tattoos on her face.
Rivera fled from the bathroom window to an auto shop and got into a car with keys in the ignition, in an attempt to flee — he had active warrants for credit card theft and burglary, his family told ABC15.
Helicopter video that the Phoenix police later released of the incident depicts what happened next: Rivera’s car was surrounded by multiple police vehicles. Police shot at the car. Then, when Rivera exited the vehicle to flee on foot, Fricke and Carlsson shot him twice as he ran away. While Rivera lay fatally injured on the ground, Fricke sent his police dog to attack him.
“Defendants were not aware of any information that would lead a reasonable officer to believe Henry was in fact Eddison Jesus Noyola,” the lawsuit argues, and Rivera “did nothing to threaten” any officer; he had no weapons, and was fleeing on foot.
A spokesperson with the city of Phoenix said the city would not be commenting on pending litigation. Attorneys representing the family did not return New Times' inquiries.
Rivera’s case isn't the only one in recent memory where Phoenix police officers have accosted someone by mistake. Last year, 19-year-old Dion Humphrey was hospitalized for weeks after police — also SWAT officers — mistook him for a robbery suspect and tackled him. As in Rivera's case, though, the city has not yet taken any responsibility for that incident.