Phoenix police tried to "cover up" last year's mistaken shooting of a homeowner who'd been holding an intruder at gunpoint, a lawsuit against the city claims.
Tony Arambula, 35, was shot six times by Officer Brian Lilly -- including twice after he fell to the ground -- on September 17, 2008, just moments after Arambula rescued his family from a berserk man wielding a 9-millimeter handgun. Amazingly, Arambula survived, though doctors believe he'll suffer pain and problems with his nearly amputated wrist for the rest of his life.
You may have read some of the details in our March 17 blog post about the incident, which included a link to the initial claim written by Arambula's lawyer, Michael Manning (who, we must note, counts New Times among his clients). In the claim, Arambula demands at least $5.75 million to right the wrong.
In the new lawsuit filed yesterday in Maricopa County Superior Court, Arambula (via Manning)- alleges that statements made by Lilly after the shooting are contradicted by a recorded 911 phone call, indicating a possible cover-up. A transcript of the call attached to the suit states that Lilly was asked by his supervisor, Sergeant Sean Coutts, whether he knew a gun was "down there."
Lilly reportedly answered, "I don't know. I heard screaming and I fired."
Arambula had been standing with his own handgun in the doorway of his son's room, on the phone with a 911 operator. The intruder, Angel Anastacio Canales, 28, was sitting on the floor. Then the first bullets from Lilly's weapon punched through Arambula's back.
The recording makes it clear Lilly knew he "fucked up," but that a supervisor, Sergeant Sean Coutts, told him, "Don't worry about it. I got your back... We clear?"
A few hours later, Lilly told internal affairs investigators that he fired only after Arambula pointed a gun his direction, the lawsuit states.
Police kept Arambula's wife and kids from visiting Tony at the hospital until after investigators could interview him. The lawsuit also states that police tried to damage Arambula's reputation and deflect blame toward the homeowner. Police visited a gun dealer who had sold Arambula a handgun and allegedly "suggested that Tony may have illegally obtained weapons," the lawsuit says.
We're thinking that the city should have settled for the $5.75 million -- a jury may decide Arambula deserves much more.
Canales, meanwhile, has been in county lock-up ever since the incident. Last month, he cut a plea deal that involves dropping several charges, but he admits to discharging a firearm at the Arambula's house -- a stiff felony charge. He's scheduled to be sentenced on September 28.
Court records show Canales is a habitual troublemaker. He served six years in state prison for theft and had only been released a few months before he broke into Arambula's house.
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Here's an excerpt from the lawsuit: