City Rejects Unlawful Death Claim

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Santa Cruz City Council rejected a claim for damages on March 28 regarding payment for damages related to the death of Sean Arlt, who was shot and killed by a Santa Cruz police officer. Because the claim was rejected, the Arlt family will pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Santa Cruz in the coming months, said the Arlt family’s attorney Michael Haddad.

Arlt, 32, was killed on Oct. 16, 2016 when officers were called by a Westside resident, who said Arlt was banging on his door and threatening him and his family. When officers arrived to the scene, Arlt approached them, holding a garden rake above his head in a “threatening manner,” according to an Oct. 17, 2016 Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) news release. He was shot twice and died at the scene. Arlt had a history of mental illness, which the involved officers were aware of upon arriving to the scene.

On behalf of the Arlt family, Haddad submitted a claim to the City Council requesting payment for damages including wrongful death, loss of life, loss of companionship with his parents and his 5-year-old son and loss of constitutional rights. The claim also requested payment of medical, funeral and burial expenses.

Haddad said a loss of life can only be measured in the millions, although the claim submitted to city council did not specify a dollar amount to cover all damages.

“Since there was not a dollar amount specified, the council really did not have a choice but to reject the claim,” said city attorney Anthony Condotti. “[…] The claim itself is a procedural prerequisite in filing a lawsuit.”

While Condotti is correct in the Arlt family’s intent to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city, Haddad said their rejection of the claim was a “cop out.” If the city of Santa Cruz wanted to settle the claim, Haddad said, they could have entered into negotiations.

“If [the city of Santa Cruz] wanted to settle the case,” Haddad said, “they could have contacted us and said ‘Let’s enter into negotiations. We want to do what’s right,’ but they didn’t do that.”

Because of the claim rejection, Condotti said, Arlt’s family has six months to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city. However, they will be taking the next step toward a lawsuit in about a month, Haddad said. The lawsuit will allege that the officer who shot and killed Arlt violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force.

“There is no reason to shoot an obviously mentally ill man simply holding a garden rake,” Haddad said. “Officers could have gotten out of the way. It just did not pose a deadly force threat.”

The Arlt family will be requesting payment for damages by the city of Santa Cruz and that reform measures be taken within the SCPD to ensure incidents such as these don’t happen again.

SCPD declined to comment for this story, noting the inappropriate nature to comment on City Council’s decision.