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Family of man killed by Tucson police suing city for negligence

The family of a man shot and killed by Tucson police in 2018 is suing the city for negligence, saying the incident that led to his death should have been handled like a mental health crisis rather than like a "hostage situation." The civil trial in the case began Monday before a jury in Pima County Superior Court.

Joel Andrade was shot to death by two Tucson Police Department officers on Sept. 10, 2018, when they responded to a 911 call from his home. His family is seeking monetary damages from the city of Tucson, but they first have to prove their negligence claim, before a court can determine how much that amount might be.

The lawyer representing the Andrade family, Paul Gattone, said that he doesn’t hope to change TPD’s use of force policy, but that the case is important “for deciding when the police use deadly force.”

Tucson police came to Andrade’s South Side house on Sept. 10, 2018 during an argument between the 53-year-old man and his wife’s daughter, who had accused him of sexual abuse of her younger sister.

Andrade’s wife, Patti Andrade— also called Rosa — agreed to call the police after talking with her daughter, Yadira Moreno, who had been hitting Andrade with a broomstick. Gattone said that Patti “had been expecting the police to help her.” Instead, Gattone said, “Joel Andrade died in a hail of bullets.”

There were 19 police officers, including a SWAT team, at their house near East Ajo Way and South 6th Avenue when two officers with semi-automatic rifles fired several rounds at Andrade, hitting him at least once. They then waited more than an hour before providing medical support.

Gattone argued in front of the jury Monday that Sgt. William Corrales, the supervising officer on the scene and the one who fired the shot killed Andrade, and Officer Ernest Ortiz, who also shot at Andrade, acted negligently in their response.

“They treated it like a hostage situation,” he told the Tucson Sentinel. “When they could have treated it as a mental health crisis like they should have.”

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A mental health professional should have been called, Gattone told the jury, and they should have asked the family if there were any weapons in the house and given Andrade possibly life-saving medical support after shooting him.

Andrade’s wife Patti “trusted the police,” Gattone said in his opening arguments Monday. “She called them because she expected them to help.” Instead, Gattone said, “they did everything to escalate the situation.”

The defense lawyer Renee Waters, a city of Tucson attorney, said police had asked if there were weapons, however. Waters played audio from Moreno’s 911 call and body camera footage of an officer talking with Patti that showed both family members saying there were no weapons in the house.

“It didn’t cross my mind,” Patti said from the witness stand on Monday. “I forgot all about it.”

Andrade also had a pocket knife with him that he was using to cut his neck for more than two hours, leaving him soaked in blood when he first appeared from the bathroom.

Gattone told the Sentinel that he wasn’t worried that the evidence wouldn’t hurt his case, though. “They could have talked with the family to confirm,” he said. “They could have talked with others” like Patti's other children who were also present.

The rifle that Andrade had with him in the bathroom was an antique, a keepsake left behind by Patti’s ex-husband and one that family members knew to be inoperable. Police had no way of knowing this though, Waters said, and “Joel was responsible for the outcome.”

Moreno called the police, which Patti agreed was the best idea, after she had attacked Andrade. Patti took her husband to the bathroom attached to their bedroom while her daughter dialed 911, and while there, Andrade had held the knife up to his neck before she swatted it down. Andrade then told his wife that he loved her and asked her to take care of herself, which Patti said on Monday she understood as a sign that he was having "suicidal thoughts." 

When police showed up, they escorted Patti and Moreno outside, leaving Andrade alone inside. Over the next three hours, a SWAT team and a hostage negotiator tried to talk Andrade into surrendering to them.

At Monday’s trial, Ortiz said that Andrade had been telling officers “Mata me,” or "Kill me" in Spanish. Officers had been asking Andrade to drop his knife, but none had seen his rifle until after they had fired two rounds from a non-lethal ARWEN, which Ortiz described as being hit by a “90 mph fastball.”

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Andrade first appeared in the small hallway outside the bathroom after more than three hours after police first showed up. Officers were stationed outside entrance to the hallway with "layers of non-lethal and lethal" police behind them, the attorneys explained in the courtroom. Ortiz and Corrales were at the front, closest to Andrade and the bathroom entrance.

Andrade reemerged after being hit by the ARWEN, and that’s when another officer yelled “Gun!” Ortiz fired twice from his semi-automatic rifle but missed. Officers then began backing out of the house, worried about Andrade’s rifle.

Corrales, who backed awy to the outside the house, shot Andrade through an open living room window when Andrade came out the bathroom again and began raising the rifle. Neither Corrales nor Ortiz, who was closer to Andrade, were sure he was hit, so they used the robot to enter the house and confirm that it was safe for officers and paramedics to enter.

TPD “did everything” to deescalate the situation, Waters said, and “​​used a great deal of resourcefulness and creativity” in handling the situation. The defense attorney pointed out that Corrales called in a trained hostage negotiator experienced in mental health crises and that the negotiator squeezed between the house and a brick wall to talk to Andrade in Spanish through the bathroom window.

Twice during the trial on Monday, Patti Andrade broke down crying. Judge Douglas Metcalf gave her a moment to calm down while she was on the witness stand after Gattone asked her to identify her bloody husband in crime scene photos. Her lawyer also asked her to tell the jury about how her bathroom still had no door, its hinges left hanging, and the stains of splattered blood on the bottom of her sink that she was unable to clean.

On Monday, Gattone and the defense questioned both Patti and were starting to question Ortiz before the judge ended the first day of trial. The defense started Tuesday by questioning Ortiz and battling back against Gattone’s claim that Ortiz was close enough to Andrade at 20 feet to use a taser.

Corrales was set to take the witness stand on Tuesday, and Gattone expects to bring in an expert on how police can handle different crisis situations. The bottom line for Gattone remains that “the way (TPD) acted was unreasonable,” he told the Sentinel. “It was unreasonable, and they should have handled it differently. There were no hostages, there was no reason to handle it like a hostage situation.”

Gattone opened the case Monday by telling the jury that the trial is “not about George Floyd. It’s not about ‘Defund the Police.’”

“This is not about going after the police,” he said. “We’re not here to make a political point. We’re here to deal with what these two officers did.”

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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