PHOENIX — The family of a man who died in Phoenix police custody a year ago has filed a federal lawsuit claiming false arrest, excessive force, and wrongful death.
On August 4, 2020, Ramon Timothy Lopez, 28, was acting erratically. Lawyers for his family say he had mental health issues.
Officers who encountered him said he jaywalked, stole a soda, and splashed it in an officer's face. That officer chased Lopez and tackled him in the center of 51st Avenue, near Indian School Road.
Officers pinned down Lopez on the hot midday pavement. Lawyers say his skin was burned.
Lopez was handcuffed and put in leg restraints, in a facedown position described by some as hobbling or hogtying.
At one point, Lopez seemed to say, "You guys are killing me."
After six minutes on the ground, officers carried Lopez to a police cruiser and shoved him inside facedown. Phoenix police policy tells officers not to do this. It's well known in law enforcement that this kind of prone restraint can lead to difficulty breathing. There are documented cases of positional asphyxia and sudden death.
After a few minutes, officers notice Lopez was nonresponsive. They poured water on him, trying to revive him. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
"See the pain that we go through knowing that our brother was - 28 years old, strong, young individual - taken from us way too soon," said David Gonzales, Lopez's brother.
Lopez's sister sent a statement to ABC15 that said, "Arizona police were wrong from beginning to end on how they treated and restrained my brother resulting in his death." She added laws should be created to prohibit the "hobble tie" restraint.
Lopez's family has a team of lawyers including famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
Crump represented the family of George Floyd who was murdered by a Minneapolis cop last year.
Look at the way Timothy was treated," said Daisy Ayllon, a member of the family's legal team. "He deserved to be treated with the same sensitivity and with the same respect as any individual living with a disability. He wasn't."
Lawyers for the family say Lopez's case is a lot like Floyd's
"There's very eerie and very similar footage of the video where he's saying, 'you guys are going to kill me,'" Ayllon said. "Even as he's saying these things to the police officers, the police officers don't go and change the way in which they're approaching and they're managing this situation."
The autopsy noted methamphetamine intoxication, a weakened heart, and police restraint, but the medical examiner ultimately ruled Lopez's cause of death as "undetermined."
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to press criminal charges. The cops returned to the streets. The Phoenix Police Department's internal investigation is still not finished.
"It's not just, and it's not right," Gonzales said. "They're wrong to see anything justified in anything - in any of their actions. They did cover my brother's death."
Phoenix police previously said that Lopez was restrained on the ground for a minimal amount of time; however, a department spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit itself. She did say police officers have been given blankets to put under people when the ground is hot.
Evangelina Rodriguez, the mother to two of Lopez's kids, said she was overjoyed to hear the Department of Justice will also investigate allegations of excessive force and discrimination at the Phoenix Police Department.
"Ramon's story is one of the hundreds of complaints/stories that will prove that Phoenix P.D. uses unnecessary excessive force many times ending in death, and I hope the Department of Justice finds a remedy for the future," Rodriguez told ABC15.
Lopez split his time between Arizona and California. At the time of his death, he was in Phoenix to visit his children, including a newborn son.