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Mother of man killed by Mesa police files $15 million wrongful death claim

Angel Benitez (Family Photo)

PHOENIX – The mother of an unarmed man killed by Mesa police officers last year filed a $15 million wrongful death claim against the city on Tuesday.

Ana Sandoval filed the notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, on Tuesday over the shooting death of her 21-year-old son, Angel Benitez, in Tempe on Sept. 25.

The notice of claim says police fired at least 28 rounds at Benitez after a pursuit over a suspected stolen vehicle that started in Mesa.

The Tempe Police Department investigated the incident and submitted its report to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which has yet to decide whether criminal charges against the officers involved are warranted.

“Mesa Police rushed this incident and clearly did not handle this incident reasonably, professionally, and appropriately,” the notice of claim says.

“Mr. Benitez had surrendered and was complying and had no weapons on him, so it is unclear why there was such a rush to use lethal and non-lethal force against him.”

After the incident, police said officers pursued Benitez, who was spotted in Mesa in a car that had been reported stolen, and tracked him down after he’d backed into the covered parking space near University Drive and Evergreen Road in Tempe.

Police said the vehicle was facing officers as they commanded Benitez to put his hands up. Police said he complied at first but dropped his hands out of view, which officers perceived as a threat.

Five officers opened fire, three with what police called “lethal rounds” and two with “less lethal rounds,” according to a Tempe Police Department press release issued Sept. 28.

“Some of the police officers alleged that movement by Mr. Benitez was perceived as a threat,” the notice of claim says. “But the police officers that had the best view of Mr. Benitez did not fire their weapons.”

Police also said most of the officers involved were not wearing body cameras. There were three body cameras activated, the only footage they captured was obstructed. Footage released by the Tempe Police Department doesn’t show Benitez’s movements when the officers fired.

The notice of claim says police failed to provide medical attention to Benitez and he didn’t receive treatment until the Tempe Fire Department arrived at the scene.

Police said Benitez died at a hospital about an hour after the shooting.

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