Police who shot and killed a bank robbery hostage in a hail of gunfire had been told to hold their fire before they shot indiscriminately, with no line of sight on the suspects or hostage, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the slain hostage's family.
Stockton police officers used unreasonable force when they fired more than 600 times at the vehicle containing the suspects and hostage Misty Holt-Singh, the lawsuit against the police department and city claims.
Holt-Singh, 41, was struck by 10 of the bullets officers fired in the July 2014 shootout. Police have said she was used as a human shield by the sole surviving suspect.
The suit by Holt-Singh's husband, Paul Singh, and their two kids, Paul Singh Jr. and Mia Singh, seeks unspecified damages. It accuses officers of violating Holt-Singh's civil rights and committing battery.
Stockton City Attorney John Luebberke said the city had not reviewed the lawsuit but doesn't comment on litigation outside court.
The lawsuit comes a day after the release of a report commissioned by the Stockton Police Department that found the 600 shots police fired at the end of the bank robbery were excessive and unnecessary, with some officers only firing their weapons because other officers were shooting.
The report by the nonprofit Police Foundation said a lack of planning was partly to blame for the unnecessary shooting and contributed to a "level of chaos that was difficult to manage and overcome."
"You don't create this chaos, because ultimately bad things happen," Gregory Bentley, an attorney for the Singh family, said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. He cited the Police Foundation report, saying it bolstered the family's case. "They could not overcome their failures at the expense of the life of Misty."
Paul Singh made a brief statement, saying perhaps the foundation report would lead to a resolution.
Police Chief Eric Jones has said the robbers posed a risk to officers and the community and had to be stopped.
In his statement, Luebberke said the city knew when Jones commissioned the Police Foundation report that attorneys suing the city would likely portray it as bolstering their cases. But the city believed it had an obligation to study and learn from the events.
"The purpose of the report is to help law enforcement agencies prepare for a similar critical incident, not to second-guess split-second decisions made by officers in the midst of an extremely dangerous event," he said.
The three robbers, armed with handguns and an AK-47, held up a Bank of the West branch on July 16, 2014, and took Holt-Singh and two other women hostage before fleeing in a bank employee's SUV.
Holt-Singh, one of those hostages, had gone to the bank with her 12-year-old daughter, who sent a text message to her father, according to the Police Foundation report. "Leave work. Bank got robbed. They took mom," the message read.
The suspects then led police on an hour-long pursuit and gun battle during which they fired about 100 shots from the AK-47 and shot up more than a dozen police vehicles.
One of the hostages, bank manager Kelly Huber, was shot by one of the suspects and either jumped or was pushed out of the vehicle. The other hostage, Stephanie Koussaya, a bank teller, said she jumped out.
The Singhs' lawsuit says the first officers to respond to the bank robbery arrived with their lights on instead of stealthily as they should have. They forced the robbers back in the bank, where they took more hostages, the lawsuit claims.