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CMPD used ‘paramilitary’ tactics in shooting man with hands up, lawsuit claims

Synced 911 call, body cam reveal final moments in real time of Charlotte police killing man with hands raised

GRAPHIC CONTENT: Body cam footage obtained by the Charlotte Observer through a court order reveals that CMPD shot and killed Rueben Galindo, 29, who had called 911 and said he had a gun but no bullets. A dispatcher told officers that a Spanish-spe
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GRAPHIC CONTENT: Body cam footage obtained by the Charlotte Observer through a court order reveals that CMPD shot and killed Rueben Galindo, 29, who had called 911 and said he had a gun but no bullets. A dispatcher told officers that a Spanish-spe

A lawsuit filed by the widow of a Charlotte man fatally shot by police in 2017 accuses two police officers of moving too quickly to use “paramilitary” tactics and failing to recognize the man was experiencing a mental health crisis.

Rubin Galindo was killed Sept. 6, 2017. Video footage from the shooting shows Galindo had his hands in the air, as he was ordered to do, when he was shot. Police officials have said Galindo also was holding a gun, which officers deemed to be threatening.

The lawsuit comes as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department leaders are reviewing their own policies surrounding the use of deadly force. One suggestion, from the Charlotte Citizens Review Board, is to amend current policy to state: “An armed person shall not automatically be deemed an immediate threat simply by virtue of being armed.” The police chief has sole authority over department policies and rules, but he has solicited input from the review board, as well as other community groups.

The night he died, Galindo had called 911, saying he had a gun but no bullets and that he wanted to surrender the weapon. Galindo also had a pending court date for a prior misdemeanor charge and his family has said he was nervous about the scheduled court appearance.

The lawsuit — filed by lawyers on behalf of Azucena Zamorano, Galindo’s life partner and the mother to his daughter — blames his death on both the officers’ actions and inadequate CMPD training.

The case also involves a question of language barrier: Zamorano’s lawyers said CMPD officers should have waited for a Spanish-speaking officer or translator to arrive but instead yelled at Galindo in Spanish to show his hands and in English to drop his gun.

The police department refused to comment on the family’s lawsuit, citing pending litigation. Charlotte City Attorney Patrick Baker said in a statement the city “will respond to the allegations through the judicial process and will have no further comment at this time.”

Last year, when asked about officer-involved shootings, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said the department’s officers are trained to de-escalate tense situations but can’t always do so.

“A gun is a game-changer,” Putney said. “When there’s a gun involved in that equation, we’re limiting the officer’s ability to de-escalate situations.”

The police department also previously said in a statement that Galindo’s “demeanor and vague responses made it difficult for the (911) Spanish-speaking interpreter to determine what specific issue he was calling 911 in reference to ... Responding officers who arrived on the scene repeatedly instructed Mr. Galindo to show them his hands and drop the weapon. Some of those commands were communicated in Spanish.”

Two months after the shooting, then-Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray said his office investigated the use of deadly force and ruled Galindo’s death was a justified shooting. Officers involved in the shooting, David Guerra and Courtney Suggs, were not charged.

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The new civil lawsuit argues CMPD had several missteps — starting with Galindo’s first 911 call — “creating the circumstances of his death.”

Multiple 911 calls

The day he died was the second time in a three-week period Galindo had called 911, the lawsuit states. The first time, in August 2017, he told police officers he believed he was being followed and needed help. Officers then took him to a hospital for mental health treatment and he was given anti-psychotic medications, according to the lawsuit.

That prior call, the lawsuit argues, should have alerted CMPD officers of a possible mental health condition.

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On the day he died, Galindo had been drinking and experiencing ”paranoid thoughts,” according to the lawsuit. He called 911 to ask that police pick him up, as they had before, the lawsuit claims. The first time, according to the court filing, a 911 dispatcher “got exasperated” and hung up on Galindo as he “asked repeatedly if the police were coming to help him.”

Galindo then called 911 again, according to the lawsuit. He told the dispatcher he wanted to surrender his gun.

At the time, he was staying at a friend’s apartment, along with Zamorano, their 3-month-old daughter and Zamorano’s other children, the suit states.

As Galindo spoke to a Spanish interpreter on the 911 call, “his speech showed that his thought process was confused and that he was mentally distressed,” according to the lawsuit.

Previously, the police department has said: “There was never a language barrier during the 911 call. There was a communication barrier during the conversation between Mr. Galindo and the Spanish-speaking interpreter due to Mr. Galindo’s demeanor and vague responses.”

A department spokesman, Rob Tufano, previously told the Observer Galindo would not answer “numerous questions” about what he intended to do with the gun.

The lawsuit says officers who responded to Galindo’s final 911 call should have been trained in approaching people known to have mental health issues. They should have called in a crisis-intervention team or similarly trained officer, Zamorano’s lawyers argue.

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Lawsuit details language barrier

The family’s lawyers also claim Officers Guerra and Suggs should have waited for a translator before approaching Galindo, who spoke no English.

At a news conference after the shooting, Putney said Guerra knew limited Spanish, which the chief referred to as “survival Spanish.” In the seconds before Galindo was killed, video footage shows Guerra yelled Galindo’s name to get his attention and then yelled “Manos” meaning “hands.”

As Galindo raised his hands, an officer then yelled at him to “drop it,” referring to the gun. About four seconds later, with Galindo’s hands still in the air, apparently holding a gun, shots ring out, striking him.

The lawsuit accuses police officers of hastily taking a “paramilitary approach” while “wearing body armor and brandishing assault rifles.”

This, paired with the officers shouting commands in English, the lawsuit claims, amounted to negligence in Galindo’s death.

Galindo “did not pose an imminent threat to anyone,” Zamorano’s lawyers say in the lawsuit. “He had his hands raised, all officers were behind cover, and no other persons were in the vicinity.”

After the shooting, Officer Suggs’ attorney told The Charlotte Observer that Galindo had failed to follow advice from the 911 dispatcher.

“Had he simply surrendered the weapon as asked by 911 ... in Spanish he would be alive today,” Michael Greene said. “These officers were given a difficult situation and dealt with it to secure their own safety, the safety of other officers on the scene and the safety of other residents in the apartment complex.”

An attorney for Officer Guerra, George Laughrun, said in 2017 that there was no way for responding CMPD officers to know the gun Galindo carried was indeed unloaded. “That’s like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It does not make any sense,” Laughrun told the Observer. “You can always Monday morning quarterback and say ‘What if? What if? What if?’“

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