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Mom of 'ER' actress files lawsuit after police shot, killed her daughter in 2018

The suit alleges officers who fatally shot Marquez acted in a "negligent and reckless manner" when responding to a medical call.
/ Source: NBC News

The mother of an "ER" actress who was fatally shot by police in 2018 is accusing the officers involved of acting in a "militaristic, menacing and threatening" manner in a lawsuit filed this week against the city of South Pasadena in California.

The suit was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Delia McElfresh, whose daughter, the actress Vanessa Marquez, died on Aug. 20, 2018, after a friend called the South Pasadena Fire Department because Marquez was experiencing seizures.

The lawsuit says that "even though the call was for medical assistance and specifically requested response by paramedics with the South Pasadena Fire Department, several fully armed police officers" from South Pasadena responded instead.

The suit states that the officers entered Marquez's home "without probable cause or exigent circumstances," and tried to get her to go to the hospital. When she refused, the officers tried to remove her from the home.

Vanessa Marquez as Nurse Wendy Goldman in 1995.Alice S. Hall / NBCU Photo Bank

The suit states that one of the officers "falsely claimed Ms. Marquez pointed a gun at him and then at herself" during the confrontation, which ended with police fatally shooting the actress. Police later stated that Marquez had brandished a BB gun.

"Their armed presence, coupled with the attempted removal of Ms. Marquez from her home against her will, was a militaristic, menacing, and threatening response to a frail and visibly debilitated woman who was exercising her right to remain in her home," reads the suit, which seeks unspecified damages. "Ms. Marquez's death was the result of overreaction, excessive use of force, and gross mishandling of the situation."

In March, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced they would not file criminal charges against the two police officers who shot Marquez, Gilberto Carrillo and Christopher Perez, saying that they acted legally and in self-defense.

Shannon Presby, head deputy Los Angeles County district attorney, wrote in a memo that “the evidence demonstrates that Carrillo and Perez actually and reasonably believed Marquez posed an imminent threat of great bodily injury or death."

McElfresh's attorneys had filed a $20 million claim against the city in 2019, but did not receive a response from the city, according to her attorneys. One of her attorneys, Vicki Sarmiento, told NBC News that McElfresh did not want to file a suit at first, but decided to do so after "the DA went on record saying the officers did nothing wrong and that everything the police did was justified."

"It's our position the investigation was completely distorted and biased by the police. The DA set forth an analysis that had so many holes in it and lacked pertinent information," Sarmiento said. "It's indicative of the internal processes that fail people who are victims of police violence. They leave us with no other option but to pursue a lawsuit."

Terri Highsmith, city attorney for South Pasadena, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying that the city had not been served nor seen a copy of it as of Thursday morning.

The lawsuit comes amid increased scrutiny about police use of force and calls for police reforms. Such calls have erupted after a spate of officer-involved killings, including that of George Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for about eight minutes.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment. The office this year has released reports on approximately 40 officer-involved shootings dating from various years.

"Ms. Marquez should not be dead at the hands of a police officer," Sarmiento said. "That should bother anyone. The training and aggression that exists in police departments needs to seriously be evaluated."

Marquez, who was 49, appeared in a number of "ER" episodes over three seasons as the nurse Wendy Goldman. She made headlines in 2017 when she alleged that her “ER” co-star George Clooney had caused her to be blacklisted after she complained of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, according to Variety. Clooney denied the allegations and said he had no control over hiring.