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Valley family challenges police use-of-force at US Appeals Court

Dylan Liberti
Posted at 9:38 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-05 11:03:42-05

PHOENIX  — Jeannine Liberti surrounds herself with memories of her son Dylan, like the cross the 24-year-old was wearing on July 27, 2016, the day he died.

"That morning when Dylan walked me out to my car, he gave me his big hug like he always does, and he said, 'Mom, I love you,'" Liberti said.

Dylan's family told the ABC15 Investigators he suffered from mental illness and had used methamphetamines before making a 911 hang-up call from a Chompies restaurant in a Scottsdale strip mall.

"He was calling for help that day, and the outcome was just completely tragic," Liberti said.

Six minutes into Dylan's interaction with police, he's not sitting down, as requested, and one officer tries to force him down. That action leads to screaming, a struggle and a foot chase. Officers point their guns at the young man who then pulls out a small knife. As the situation escalates, officers taser Dylan and shoot him.

"If they would've just backed away a little bit, called some paramedics to come and check him out, make sure he's okay, and treated him like a human being, I don't think any of this would've happened," said David Abney, the Liberti family's attorney. "I think he would still be alive."

Dylan's family filed a federal lawsuit claiming the officers committed an "act of excessive force" when they "attempted, without any probable cause, to physically restrain, detain, and/or falsely imprison" Dylan.

Scottsdale police claim in court filings they had a right to detain Dylan for crimes including disorderly conduct and being intoxicated by drugs in a public place.

A U.S. District Court judge agreed with the police, concluding the officers acted reasonably in their use of force, and he dismissed the case before a trial could happen. The family is appealing that decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Abney argues that the case deserved to go before a jury, especially because of police body-camera video shows the entire police response.

"This case is a prime example of what we are going to see more and more, as more and more police wear body camera videos," Abney said. "We are going to have an objective witness there that the jury can look at and analyze."

In his request for oral arguments, which will happen Thursday in a special Phoenix sitting of the appeals court, Abney also points out a police shooting problem in this state, citing statistics showing several Arizona cities have higher numbers of fatal police shootings than other large cities. In court documents, he argues "too many people, many of them young, are dying; too many police-involved shootings end with unanswered questions."

"This is very important to our state, Abney said. "and this case could be part of the solution."

"In the profession, we were expecting this type of litigation to occur," said retired Phoenix Police Commander Jeff Hynes. He now teaches at Glendale Community College and acts as an expert witness in police use-of-force cases.

"Presenting these video footages to a live jury is an absolute thing that has to occur," Hynes said. "The transparency of the profession, it’s the only way that we build faith and the trust of the public so they see what we do, and when we mess up, they get to call it."

Hynes also said that the public has been changing its expectation of how police officers should react to certain situations.

"When somebody has a mental illness, the community expects and demands that we deal with that person with more compassion," Hynes said.

Got a news tip? Email ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius at Melissa.Blasius@abc15.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.