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Family of Teen Killed by Sunnyvale Police Files Claim Against the City

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A police vehicle that says "Sunnyvale" on the side is parked while a woman walks in the background.
Police stand guard at an apartment complex in Sunnyvale on Wednesday, April 24, 2019.  (Karl Mondon/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

The family of a teenager who Sunnyvale police shot and killed in March has filed a claim against the city, alleging that police failed to de-escalate the situation or use less lethal weapons before using deadly force.

Emmanuel Perez Becerra, 19, was in the midst of a mental health crisis on March 23 and called police for help. But when officers arrived, Perez was naked from the waist down and walking around the Plaza Del Rey mobile home park with a knife. The Sunnyvale police department released footage from the fatal shooting during a press conference on March 29 as part of the investigation into the incident. The two officers involved are now back at work after being on administrative leave.

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The claim filed Friday against the city of Sunnyvale said that an officer began yelling commands at Perez before shooting him. Following the shooting, the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety issued a news release, saying, “The officers gave the subject commands to stay where he was and to place the knife on the ground. The subject ignored the officers’ repeated commands and advanced on one of the officers.”

The claim filed on behalf of the Perez family said available video footage, including police body camera, shows Perez “did not verbally threaten any officers nor point the knife at any officer” before Sunnyvale Officer Kevin Lemos shot and killed him. The claim also states Lemos “prohibited” a second unnamed officer “from providing any assistance or non-lethal measures to de-escalate the situation or apprehend Emmanuel.”

a teenager wearing glasses and a baseball hat
Emmanuel Perez Becerra, 19, was shot and killed by Sunnyvale police officers on March 23, 2024. (Courtesy of Jonathan Perez)

Adante Pointer — the attorney who filed the claim ahead of a planned federal civil rights lawsuit — said the officers did not follow their training by de-escalating the situation and putting distance between themselves and someone armed with a knife.

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“You don’t yell threats to the person who’s in a mental health crisis because it ratchets up the tension, the anxiety, and turns it into a more unpredictable situation. And that’s exactly what the officer did,” he said.

Pointer said Perez’s mental health problems started when he was in high school, where he had been a good student with good grades. But, as his mental health issues progressed, he had several contacts with law enforcement.

“Sunnyvale police had come out to his home on previous occasions because of his mental health issues, so they were familiar with him,” Pointer said. “They were familiar with what he was suffering from and understood that he had not ever harmed anyone.”

Pointer said that had police followed their training, Perez would have been able to celebrate his 20th birthday on Saturday.

“He called the police for help. Instead of receiving the help he deserved, and frankly, is required, he was met with bullets and ultimately death,” Pointer said.

Jennifer Garnett, a city spokesperson, said the city doesn’t have a record of the claim being filed as of Sunday, but they typically don’t comment on pending litigation.

The city said SDPS is investigating the shooting and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, per county protocol.

KQED’s Brian Krans contributed reporting to this story.

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