SALT LAKE CITY — An attorney representing the widow and mother of a man killed by a SWAT team in his Roy garage has filed court documents outlining allegations of illegal search and unconstitutional use of lethal force by police.
An 82-page memorandum and associated exhibits filed Monday in U.S. District Court are the latest volley in a three-year old civil case over the Oct. 21, 2014, death of Jose Calzada.
Calzada, a veteran who had called a suicide hotline, was found lying in the trunk of his car after SWAT officers entered his home following a seven-hour standoff.
Calzada, 35, was holding a handgun to his chin and had an AR-15 rifle above his head. Both firearms were unloaded, investigators learned later.
After police shouted commands at Calzada over the approximately seven-minute confrontation, he made hand movements that prompted three officers to open fire, according to court records.
Calzada’s widow, Maria Calzada, and his mother, Manuela Rosales, both of Roy, filed a civil suit in 2016, alleging police entered the home without a warrant and with insufficient permission to search, then used excessive force to kill him.
Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure and unwarranted police lethal force are the basis for the suit, which names Roy City, Weber County and 11 Ogden Metro SWAT Team members and other police officers as defendants.
On May 22, the defendants filed a motion asking Judge David Nuffer to dismiss the suit. They argued officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment because they had consent from Calzada’s girlfriend to enter the home and he was armed and threatening to kill himself.
But in his Monday filing, Layton attorney L. Miles LeBaron, representing Calzada’s relatives and estate, urged Nuffer to allow the case to continue to trial.
‘SUICIDE BY COP’?
He said the police narrative that Calzada wanted “suicide by cop” is not borne out by the record.
“It was law enforcement’s coming to his property that caused Mr. Calzada to first voice any suggestion of suicide by cop,” LeBaron wrote.
Calzada called a suicide hotline and only wanted to talk to the line’s counselors, LeBaron said.
“Calzada did not want the police at his property; he called the suicide hotline for help and did not seek or want police involvement,” LeBaron said.
When a police negotiator got on the line with Calzada and the suicide prevention workers, the man “became much more agitated,” LeBaron said.
“He repeatedly told police that he did not want to talk to them and that he only wanted to speak with the suicide hotline workers,” LeBaron said.
According to audio records, a hotline supervisor told the SWAT commander her colleague “has already built a rapport with him (Calzada) and the guy you have talking to him right now is making it worse.”
SWAT soon disconnected the hotline workers from the call and the team’s trained negotiator took it from there.
Only once did Calzada mention being “killed by officers,” LeBaron said — after his home was surrounded by police.
Calzada “never provoked the police,” LeBaron said. “It was the police who would not let Mr. Calzada alone.”
The defendants said in their May court filing that the negotiator became concerned about several things Calzada said, including that he was “locked and loaded,” had hundreds of rounds of ammunition, was doing “perimeter checks” and talked about “going tactical.”
LeBaron said Calzada made those statements only after police surrounded his home.
“Calzada’s statement that he was ‘going tactical’ meant that he was fortifying his house against an assault … against perceived aggressors,” LeBaron wrote.
Police eventually lost contact with Calzada after the man, who had been drinking heavily, told them he was tired and was going to go to sleep. In their court filing, police said they were concerned Calzada may have meant “going to sleep” as suicide.
The SWAT team then decided to search the home. A Roy officer got a signature on a form from Calzada’s girlfriend, who lived at the home, but no permission was given to search the cars in the garage, LeBaron said.
SWAT officers, the defendants said, hoped they would find Calzada asleep and would be able to get him to quietly surrender, eliminating any risk to him, the officers or neighbors.
But when they popped the trunk of a car, Calzada was there, lying on his back.
LeBaron said the search was a “reckless or intentional escalation.” He said police knew Calzada did not want them in his home and he had been assured multiple times by the negotiator that they would not enter.
Police shouted “confusing and contradictory” commands to Calzada, LeBaron said, including “don’t move,” “let go of the gun,” “exit the vehicle” and “show me your hands.”
One SWAT officer had a weapon with beanbag rounds and was ordered, “Get ready to pound him with a beanbag.”
But in the defendants’ court filing, the officer was described as reluctant to fire because at the angle he had, facing Calzada’s head, the shot may have killed Calzada.
During the seven minutes of the garage contribution, other SWAT officers changed positions, leading LeBaron to conclude the beanbag officer had time to find a better angle to fire a non-lethal round.
Just before officers fired their rifles at Calzada, “his movements were quick, requiring snap judgment,” the police court document said.
But according to depositions given by several officers, LeBaron said Calzada’s movements reaching toward his rifle “were slow, not fast.”
“There was ample time for (police) to give a warning that they would or might use deadly force,” LeBaron wrote. “(Police) had several communications directed to Mr. Calzada ... prior to shooting him without ever giving Mr. Calzada a warning that they would or might use deadly force.”