- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico family says excessive force on the part of sheriff deputies is to blame for the death of an 88-year-old great-grandfather who was distraught, wandering his neighborhood shirtless and wearing only one shoe following the death of his wife.

The family of Fidencio Duran filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bernalillo County in state district court last week.

The complaint outlines a standoff last September that ended with deputies shooting Duran with pepper balls before unleashing a police dog.

Duran died a month later of pneumonia brought on by broken bones he suffered when he was knocked down by the dog. He also had cuts on his body where the pepper balls broke his skin.

In an autopsy report, the medical investigator classified Duran’s death as a homicide.

According to the lawsuit, the county has allowed a culture of aggression to exist within the sheriff’s department and deputies should have been wearing body cameras during the standoff.

“I think that had the officers been wearing lapel cameras, they wouldn’t have done what they did,” Shannon Kennedy, an Albuquerque attorney representing the family, told the Albuquerque Journal. “A watched cop doesn’t boil.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Aaron Williamson said an internal investigation cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing. A review of a criminal investigation is still pending with the district attorney’s office.

The incident began unfolding after Duran, who was bleeding, banged on his neighbor’s door. The neighbor called authorities.

According to sheriff reports, deputies called in a crisis negotiator and a Spanish-speaking deputy to translate. Duran was reported to be holding a 4-inch knife, refusing to let it go and asking deputies to kill him.

Deputies said they tried for 90 minutes to get Duran, who was partially blind and deaf and had other ailments, to put down the knife.

The exchange can be heard on audio recorded by the deputies’ belt tapes. One deputy says they should try the pepper balls, while another suggests they should keep him talking. Another deputy later says Duran’s age should be taken into consideration.

“When he was surrounded by deputies, he had committed no crime,” Kennedy told Albuquerque television station KOB-TV. “They are supposed to be serving, but instead they set in motion the kind of violence that sets a very painful death.”

Duran’s family had told deputies that he had Alzheimer’s disease, according to the recordings.

Deputies acknowledged in the recordings that Duran was not making any sense, and the lawsuit contends he became disoriented following his wife’s death.

In addition to asking for deputies to begin wearing body cameras, the lawsuit also calls for them to be trained not to use pepper balls on the elderly.

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