Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Madrigal lawsuit on police shooting hits $227,365 but still stalled

The shooting death of Mario Madrigal Jr. has cost Mesa hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though the 4-year-old civil suit doesn't even have a trial date yet.

So far, the city has paid an outside law firm, Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, $227,365 to defend the case, according to City Attorney Debbie Spinner, who released the price tag in response to a public-records request.

The wrongful death case filed by the boy's parents revolves around whether police were justified in shooting the 15-year-old to death after he slashed at officers with a knife. Family members say the boy was falling to ground after being hit with a Taser and was shot in the back.U.S. District Court Judge Earl Carroll has yet to issue any rulings or schedule hearings on several key motions pending in the marathon case, which was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in 2004 and then moved to federal court two years later.

The motions include the city's attempt to have the case dismissed and an attempt by the Madrigals' attorney to eventually show jurors an animated version of the shooting.

The Mesa City Council was briefed behind closed doors on the case's status on Dec. 4.

"The city looks at every case and constantly evaluates its merit,"said Steve Wright, a city spokesman. The choice is whether to fight the suit or settle out of court, Wright said. More than five years after the Aug. 25, 2003, shooting, the city and the Madrigal family still have vastly different versions of what happened that night.

They agree only that the family called police because Mario Jr. was intoxicated and armed with a knife and they feared he might commit suicide.

The family's attorney, Ray Slomski, argues in court documents that the shooting was unnecessary, that three officers shot Mario Jr. 10 times in a kitchen doorway as he was falling to the ground.

"The nearest police officer was approximately 10 feet away from the falling boy when the first shot was fired," according to the court records.
Slomski said the shots struck Mario Jr. in his left side and his back as he was turning away from officers.

The three officers were cleared of wrongdoing by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Marc Steadman, an assistant Mesa city attorney, argues that Mario Jr. cursed at police "and came at Officer (Mark) Beckett, slashing at him with a knife."

Beckett, Officer Richard Henry and Sgt. Tracey Dean fired "because they believed Mario would stab Officer Beckett if he was not stopped. They reasonably believed Officer Beckett's life was in danger," Steadman wrote.

After the shooting, Beckett said, "I thought I was was going to die," according to the city's motion for summary judgment.

Dean and Henry have retired from the force. Beckett still works in the patrol division in the Red Mountain precinct.