Protesters demand justice for Erik Salas Sánchez, killed by an El Paso police officer in 2015. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The El Paso City Council has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle an excessive use of force lawsuit against an El Paso police officer who fired his taser at a man attempting to hang himself during a mental health crisis.

Daniel Ramirez (Photo courtesy of the Ramirez family)

It is the second time in less than 16 months that the city opts to settle a case involving the use of deadly force by police officers against people in a mental health crisis instead of proceeding to a jury trial.

Both lawsuits alleged – in part – that the El Paso Police Department, under the leadership of the late Police Chief Greg Allen, poorly trained its officers on how to respond to mental health cases.

The lawsuit settled by the City Council in a unanimous vote following an executive session discussion Tuesday stemmed from the police’s response to a call on June 23, 2015, involving Daniel Antonio Ramirez, who was having a mental health crisis.

“I visit my son’s grave every day,” Ramirez’s father, Pedro, said in a statement released by the family’s attorneys. “On this Friday, it will be eight years since he was killed. My grief is the same. We called the police to help my son, instead the officer killed him. I still don’t understand why. I also don’t understand why the department covered for this officer rather than hold him accountable.”

City officials did not comment when approving the settlement on Tuesday. But they issued a news release on Friday in which City Attorney Karla Niemann that said while she believed the city “could prevail at trial, the settlement represented a financial consideration made in the best interests of the taxpayers and community.” She said the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing by the city.

On the day Daniel Ramirez died, his mother, Maria, called 911 to report that her son was suicidal.

Ramirez, 30, died after he was tased by the first officer on the scene –  El Paso Police Officer Ruben Escajeda. Escajeda saw Ramirez clutching a rope tied around his neck that was fastened to a basketball hoop in the family’s backyard during a suicide attempt, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit did not specify an amount for monetary damages, but alleged Escajeda used excessive force against Ramirez and that the city was directly responsible because the police department, under Allen’s leadership, failed to institute proper procedures to ensure officers employ appropriate tactics when dealing with people suspected of suffering from mental illness.

The lawsuit also alleged the police department failed to properly investigate and discipline officers involved in excessive use of force incidents under Allen’s leadership – including Escajeda’s response to the call involving Ramirez.

Allen’s review of the incident determined Escajeda acted according to department policy when he tased Ramirez even though he posed no threat to the officer or anyone else, according to the lawsuit.

“The Ramirez family’s goal has been to bring these issues to light and prevent other families from suffering the way they have,” said Lynn Coyle, one of the attorneys representing the Ramirez family.

“Our city’s leaders have an opportunity to hire a new police chief that will change the culture in the department to better protect our community and our officers,” Coyle said. “We hope they seize that opportunity to make this long overdue and very necessary change.”

Interim Police Chief Peter Pacillas. (Cindy Ramirez/El Paso Matters)

Allen died in January. The city appointed Peter Pacillas, Allen’s longtime assistant police chief, as interim chief in February. A search for a new police chief is currently underway.

U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama had previously denied most of the city’s motion for a summary judgment that, if granted, could have ended the lawsuit against the city and Escajeda in August 2021.

Guaderrama ruled the Ramirez family had enough evidence for a jury to find that Escajeda violated Ramirez’s civil rights when he tased him, causing his death. He also found sufficient evidence for a jury to determine that the city’s and police department’s policies and practices were the moving force in Escajeda’s use of excessive force against Ramirez.

In March 2022, the city reached a $1.2 million settlement with the family of Erik Salas Sanchez, 22, who El Paso Police Officer Mando Kenneth Gomez fatally shot multiple times.

Salas Sanchez was shot inside his mother’s house in April 2015.

Erik Salas Sanchez

U.S. District Judge Philip Martinez in March 2020 also denied most of the city’s motion for a summary judgment in the Salas-Sanchez case and determined his death may be traced to poor training and discipline standards Allen set.

The city did not admit wrongdoing on the part of the Police Department in the settlement of the Salas Sanchez case days before it was set to go to trial.

Christopher Benoit, one of the attorneys representing the Ramirez family, said the lawsuits filed by the Ramirez and Salas Sanchez families in the spring and summer of 2017 have resulted in important changes to the Police Department, including increasing civilian participation in the disciplinary process, correcting the use of force policy and creating specialized mental health units to respond to calls.

“The city still has a long way to correct the department’s deficiencies – particularly when

it comes to response to calls involving mental health crises,” Benoit said.

Coyle and Benoit also represented the Salas Sanchez family.

11:55 a.m. June 24: This story has been updated with comment from city officials.

Disclosure: Attorneys Lynn Coyle and Chris Benoit represented El Paso Matters CEO Robert Moore in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They are financial supporters of El Paso Matters.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...