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Family of Melissa Perez files lawsuit against San Antonio and its police department

Dominic Anthony Walsh

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The family of Melissa Perez — who was shot to death by San Antonio police officers last month — filed a federal lawsuit against the officers who also face murder charges, as well as the police department and city.

Perez experienced a schizophrenic episode when officers responded to her apartment complex and police escalated the situation. The lawsuit alleged they used excessive force.

The bullets of officers Nicholas Villalobos, Elezear Alejandro and Sgt. Alfred Flores all struck Melissa Perez, the lawsuit said. She died shortly after.

The lawsuit claimed the men used unreasonable and excessive force.

Though roundly condemned by police command staff who moved swiftly to arrest the men for murder, the lawsuit said the department was a breeding ground for bad actors who go unpunished and untrained.

“Ms. Perez was not shot by a single officer who temporarily forgot his training in a split second decision. There were multiple officers who acted over a two-hour period of time,” the lawsuit said.

Sgt. Alfred Flores and Officers Eleazar Alejandro and Nathaniel Villalobos were arrested Friday and charged in the murder of Melissa Perez. They were released on bond Saturday.

In addition to limiting operating hours of the Mental Health Unit — which should have been called to the scene according to police — the lawsuit argued the city and police are all liable in the death because the department has a culture of not utilizing that unit and of escalating mental health encounters with excessive force. It also claimed the department is filled with policymakers who fail to train the force on the need to intervene to stop a fellow cop.

All three men were suspended without pay and arrested for murder. The internal affairs investigation is ongoing and will be turned over to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office of Civil Rights when complete.

“I don't know what their mindset was. I can just tell you what happened and that was that they didn't treat it like an escalated mental health call,” Chief William McManus told TPR in an interview.

McManus has repeatedly denied that the men would have not known to call the MHU — and had the training to make better decisions.

Three San Antonio police officers stand accused of murdering a woman in the throes of a mental breakdown.

The lawsuit cited several deadly local police encounters with the mentally ill in the past 10 years.

In addition, the lawsuit pointed to numerous infractions by the officers involved with the shooting and called it a failure to meaningfully discipline officers.

The lawsuit points to 96 in-custody deaths in 10 years.

“The City of San Antonio has an unacceptably high number of in-custody deaths. It is a much higher rate than comparable cities and is on par with much larger cities such as Houston and Chicago,” said former city councilman Mario Salas in a letter to the Justice Department, asking for federal oversight two years ago.

The letter was included in the lawsuit.

TPR published in detail public records that showed eight suspensions between Alejandro and Flores prior to the shooting. Incompetence, neglect of duty, and misconduct were just a few of the infractions — that often were reduced.

The senior San Antonio police officer now awaiting indictment for the murder of Melissa Perez was nearly fired six years ago, according to public records obtained by TPR.

Alfred Flores was initially indefinitely suspended for an altercation six years ago, but the infraction was reduced to a 10-day suspension.

Aside from the lawsuit, questions remained about how these two officers — with such serious infractions — still had positions in the community.

Perez’s family asked for monetary damages related to her death, including loss of companionship and mental anguish. The suit seeks punitive damages against the officers.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org