One Year Later, Shooting Questions Still Unanswered

Shot by So Pas Police. File Photo

UPDATE: A candlelight vigil has been organized by friends of Vanessa Marquez to take place the evening of Friday, Aug. 30 at 7:00 p.m. The memorial will be held in front of Marquez’s former residence at 1133 Fremont Avenue in South Pasadena.

With Friday marking one year since the death of South Pasadena resident Vanessa Marquez in a South Pasadena Police officer-involved-shooting, friends and family of the actress are still seeking answers in the investigation of the incident that occurred during a welfare check on her.

The city has yet to respond to a claim for $20 million in damages filed in February by Marquez’ mother, Delia McElfresh, her attorney said.

The 49-year-old Marquez, a former actress with roles on “ER” and “Stand and Deliver,” died in the shooting that occurred at about 1:48 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 at her residence on Fremont Avenue.

Local officials, including police, have already made statements determining that the shooting was justified. The case was investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and is now in the hands of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office.

“A case has been presented to our Justice System Integrity Division and remains under review,” Greg Risling, spokesperson for the DA’s office, told the Review in an email Aug. 28. 

Police Chief Joe Ortiz, who was hired in April to take over for  Acting Chief Brian Solinsky, did not return messages seeking comment. Solinsky ran the department at the time of the shooting. Previous Chief Art Miller had left to become chief in Peoria, Ariz.

But speaking on behalf of Ortiz and the city, John Pope, public information officer for South Pas, said the city was “participating fully in those investigations” and has “cooperated fully” with the Sheriff’s Department and the DA’s office. He said the city was told to expect about a year for the investigation, and it was still within that time window.

“We recognize that these agencies need to take their time to do a thorough investigation,” said Pope.

During the welfare check, Marquez was having seizures and possibly suffering from mental-health issues, Lt. Joe Mendoza of the Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau told TheWrap, an online news outlet, a day after the shooting.

After more than 90 minutes of officers trying to convince Marquez to seek care, Mendoza said, she pulled out a weapon and pointed it at police officers. Though it was later identified to be a BB gun, Mendoza said it was a replica of a semi-automatic handgun. An officer or officers shot Marquez, who was transported to Huntington Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. No officers were injured.

Los Angeles resident Minerva Garcia, a friend of Marquez, presented a passionate statement to the South Pasadena City Council on Aug. 21, raising questions on why the investigation was being so drawn out despite the Sheriff’s Department expressing confidence that the SPPD officers acted appropriately.

Garcia pressed the council for clarity and transparency.

“The first question to come up: who let the police into Vanessa’s apartment after someone requested a welfare check?” Garcia told the council. “One of the first in-depth media reports on the event said a manager of the apartment building let them in. However, no manager lives at the property. Who called the manager to alert them? That same media report also states that a witness, who was there with the officer in her apartment, saw Vanessa having a seizure, and this witness said they thought Vanessa was dead. At that point, one would think common sense would dictate that paramedics be called immediately to administer to her medical needs.”

Garcia noted that 90 minutes transpired from the time of entry into Marquez’s apartment and the shooting, and she wanted to know exactly what happened.

“What happened in all that time that they could not figure out a different way to handle the situation?” Garcia shared with the Review. “A sick woman who was 86 pounds at the time of her death. They couldn’t figure out a way to control it? They couldn’t figure out a way to negotiate? I mean, for God’s sake, if she’s having a seizure, and then all of a sudden she’s brandishing this gun, wouldn’t common sense tell you … it’s just preposterous how it’s all been painted.”

In 2017, SPPD made a large purchase of body cameras. Garcia pressed the city for information on whether the officers involved in the shooting — whose names have not been released — had cameras on, and if so, why the footage wasn’t released.

“The whole situation was so mishandled,” said Garcia. “She didn’t deserve that. She didn’t deserve to die this way.”

“I wish we had an organization behind us to help navigate this because none of us has had any issues with police before, in terms of the brutality of it all,” said Garcia.

Vicki Sarmiento, an attorney representing McElfresh’s claim against the city, said the “SPPD and the city have not been forthcoming with any information regarding the status” of the case. After the claim was filed in February, she said the city has failed to respond to it and that all requests for information have been denied, which will lead her office to the next step of filing a complaint in court and have the information released through the litigation process.

“I think that this flies in the face of transparency and accountability, and it’s going to force this case into litigation, which is something that is regrettable,” said Sarmiento.

Sarmiento said McElfresh was hopeful the SPPD would release information on its own.

“They’re going to force an older woman (Marquez’s mother) through litigation in order to get basic information as to what happened,” said Sarmiento. “Who are the people involved? What transpired? They’re the only ones who know. Vanessa is dead. So that information is in their possession only.”