On Thursday, the family of Denver, Colorado teenager Alexis Mendez-Perez filed a lawsuit accusing an off-duty corrections officer of utilizing excessive force when he fatally shot the 16-year-old.
The wrongful death suit arrives more than two months after Denver District Attorney Beth McCann declined to file charges against state Department of Corrections criminal investigator, 46-year-old Desmond Manning. McCann said that she believed there was not enough evidence to convict Manning of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.
The shooting took place just after 1 a.m. on April 23rd when Mendez-Perez and four other high school friends were suspected of breaking into a vacant rental home in northeast Denver, which was located directly in behind Manning’s home. According to authorities, Manning’s wife was preparing for bed when she spotted five males attempt to break in the home. She called 911 and awoke her husband, who then retrieved a handgun from a lockbox before making sure his home was secured. The wife then called the police a second time after seeing the group of boys inside of the neighboring home.
Once police arrived, the group of teens scattered. Mendez-Perez and his friend Andy Munoz jumped the fence and ended up in Manning’s backyard. According to the lawsuit, Manning turned on his porch light and fired five times at the boys, hitting Mendez-Perez in the back and 18-year-old Munoz in the back of the leg. The complaint states that Manning “did not warn anyone or say anything before shooting.” Munoz is also listed as a plaintiff in the case.
The family believes that the friends knew nobody lived in the empty home and were just looking for somewhere to party. They feel that the teen was not a threat to Manning; therefore, they do not believe that the shooting was justified. Many others also stand in solidarity with the family, with protests and calls to “defund the police” mounting in the city.
Charlie Crichton, an attorney representing Mendez-Perez’s family and Munoz, slammed Manning for taking the law into his own hands while off-duty and not allowing the police who were called to the scene to handle the teenage boys, who were not armed and didn’t intend on harming anyone.
“Breaking into a vacant house should not be a death sentence,” Crichton said. “We have the criminal justice system for high school kids who break into a vacant house.”
However, Manning feels differently, as he believes he acted in self-defense, fearing that the teens would enter his home with his wife and children.
“I was thinking, you know, like fight or flight comes to mind, and like I didn’t want to be attacked,” Manning said, according to police reports. He told investigators that he was unsure if he had wounded anyone. “They all continued to run. Nobody fell. Nobody stumbled. Nobody slowed down. They just continued to come and move.” He was initially arrested at the scene on suspicion of second-degree murder but was later released without having to post bail. Prosecutors later dropped the charges.
“We want justice — not for them to be let off the hook right away,” Ana Mendez, an older sister of Mendez-Perez, said of law enforcement officers who use deadly force. “My brother is gone. I don’t understand how someone can take a life and then nothing happens.”
Munoz and Mendez-Perez’s family are seeking compensatory damages.