Attorneys for a Lancaster woman suing the city over the police shooting death of her son in 2020 want a judge to reject defense efforts to keep certain evidence confidential or excluded from pretrial proceedings.
If the city is allowed to keep the material confidential, that would hinder Miguelina Peña’s ability to proceed, her attorneys contend. Peña is suing the city, the officer who shot her son, and the former police chief, contending they violated his civil rights.
Among specifics the defense wants to keep confidential are “all documents contained within any and all personnel file” of present and past employees, which would mean the officer who shot Ricardo Muñoz and the former police chief.
The defense also wants to protect investigative files related to matters after Muñoz was killed.
The issue of confidentiality goes beyond the case at hand, Peña attorney Daisy Ayllon said Thursday.
“The reason confidentiality orders are problematic are because … it prevents other people who are injured by the police, or would get injured in the future, from getting information to show there’s a pattern and practice of abuse,” Ayllon said.
In court filings since Peña filed her suit nearly a year ago, the city has denied having a policy and practice governing how officers use deadly force. It is seeking dismissal of the suit.
By keeping certain information confidential, it limits its use to the case in question and it doesn’t become part of the public record, according to Ayllon.
The defendants “want to limit what they give us and restrict how we can use it,” Ayllon said. For example, though Peña’s attorneys would be able to evaluate and decide how to use the information deemed confidential, her attorneys wouldn’t be able to discuss it with Peña herself, she said.
“The issues here affect not only Ricardo (Muñoz) and his family, but also families across the nation who seek to understand the practices of police departments who routinely kill people suffering from mental-health disabilities because the police officers are reckless and/or do not have appropriate training,” Peña’s attorneys wrote in a Jan. 21 filing opposing the city’s position.
The two sides have been arguing their positions in court filings over the past month. The defense is expected to respond to Peña’s most recent filing next week.
In their latest filing, Peña’s attorneys argued that keeping personnel file information confidential “completely shields from disclosure information relevant to issues of police brutality and accountability …”
“The police chief and the officers involved here are public officials who owe a duty to the citizens of Lancaster,” Peña’s attorneys wrote. “They work for a public agency and their conduct while on the job is a matter of public concern.
Muñoz, 27, was killed Sept. 13, 2020, after police were dispatched for a domestic disturbance call, though the family maintained they called police for help because Muñoz, who had schizophrenia, was not taking medication.
When officer Karson Arnold arrived at Muñoz’s mothers home in the city’s southwest neighborhood, Muñoz came running out carrying a knife. As he ran toward the officer, Arnold shot him four times.
An investigation by the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office cleared Arnold of acting criminally.
District Attorney Heather Adams said he “had no time or opportunity to do anything but run for his life and only resorted to lethal force when he confirmed an imminent threat to his life remained” and that de-escalation tactics or less-than-lethal forces , such as a Taser, weren’t appropriate.
On Jan 4, a federal judge dropped Lancaster County as a defendant in the suit.
Peña’s suit contended county policies led to a violation of Muñoz’s civil rights — his death — and cited the relationship between the county and city through 911 dispatch. US District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl ruled that dispatchers had no personal involvement in the shooting.
Success! An email has been sent with a link to confirm list signup.
Error! There was an error processing your request.