Family blames cops for killing man who wanted police to shoot him
MANCHESTER — The family of a man who was fatally shot during a standoff with police in 2016 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit claiming that law enforcement used excessive force.
The lawsuit comes despite the officers being cleared by the Attorney General's Office, which said the officers were justified in using force that killed 27-year-old Michael Laniado.
Police were called to Laniado's home just after midnight on Feb. 6, 2016, to arrest his girlfriend on a child support warrant.
Authorities say Laniado took his girlfriend hostage at knifepoint. The standoff lasted for several hours, ultimately ending in Laniado being fatally killed after they say he charged at officers after they had fired warning shots.
But his family says that officers escalated the situation because they did not know how to deal with suspects suffering from mental illness, according to the lawsuit, which was filed this month in federal court.
The deadly incident was not the first time that police had been called to Laniado's home, according to the lawsuit. They had been there just the night before for a disagreement between Laniado and his neighbors. The lawsuit claims the Manchester Police Department was "aware" that Laniado suffered from mental illness and had a history of "hostility toward law enforcement officers."
The lawsuit faults police for not contacting Laniado's father "despite the knowledge that [Laniado] suffered from a mental illness and that his father had assisted the police in the past."
Officers from the Manchester Township Police Department were the first to arrive on the scene that night before the Ocean County Regional SWAT team was called. The lawsuit claims Laniado was "suffering from a psychiatric crisis" but still tried to comply with officers on the scene.
"The situation was unnecessarily escalated due to the defendants' actions, as defendants did not have proper training in dealing with suspects suffering from mental illness," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says the standoff lasted for nearly four hours before officers fatally shot Laniado. It claims his death was "an abuse of process, an abuse of power and authority, violative of proper police procedure, custom, practice and policy and constituted the use of unnecessary and unjustified force."
A June 2016 report by the Attorney General's Office, which is tasked with investigating shootings that involve county-level police officers, tells a different story.
The report said when police came to the house, Laniado did not allow his girlfriend to surrender and remained locked in the house. Officers said they were unsuccessful trying to communicate with Laniado during the standoff, and saw him holding a knife and watched him throw several items, including a "makeshift spear," at the officers.
The state report says officers were eventually able to communicate with Laniado through an broken window, but the couple did not leave the home until SWAT members used tear gas to force them out. The investigation report said tear gas was used because Laniado "was becoming increasingly combative and would not voluntarily surrender."
The report said the couple went back into the home after the gas had cleared. They eventually came back from the house with Laniado holding his girlfriend with one hand and a knife with the other. Laniado eventually threw the knife away "after spinning the knife in his hand several times" when directed to drop it by police, the report said.
Investigators said Laniado had a second knife that officers had seen on his belt earlier in the standoff. He pulled the second knife after throwing the first one away, at which point one of the officers fired "multiple less lethal rounds."
Investigators said Laniado appeared angered by the rounds and "charged the SWAT members." The report said two officers shot Laniado while he was charging the responding officers.
The officer who fired the non-lethal rounds told investigators he recalled an incident in 2014 where Laniado had called the police department and said "I'm going to be famous ... I'm going to get a cop to shoot me." That same officer said he remembered another incident where Laniado had crashed into his gas meter, and was also aware of the events of the night prior to the standoff. The officer said because of Laniado's prior interactions with police, he was concerned about the safety of himself, Laniado's girlfriend and the other officers at the scene.
Laniado was taken to Community Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. The state's report said there is footage from one of the police cars on the scene that backed up the statements made by the officers involved.
A resident who witnessed the incident told NJ.com that officers had attempted to talk to Laniado and that "they didn't want to shoot him." The witness also told the publication that officers gave Laniado "every opportunity to surrender, he just wasn't receptive to it."
Laniado's attorney, Robert F. Varady, did not return a request for comment.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-353-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com