Wrongful Death Lawsuit Yields Amarillo Police Reforms

Cops Used Massive Firepower Against Unarmed Man

(AMARILLO, TEXAS) — A $10 million personal injury lawsuit pressed by Will Ferguson & Associates Law Firm in the death of a man slain by Amarillo police has led to sweeping changes in how the Amarillo Police Department employs deadly force.

The reforms stem from the fatal shooting of an unarmed Hispanic man by four Amarillo police officers on Jan. 30, 2011. Claudio Trujillo, 24, a meat plant worker, was killed when officers opened fire without warning on his SUV as it left a Downtown Amarillo parking lot. Police fired 40 rounds from pistols and at least one automatic rifle within five seconds at Trujillo’s car, according to evidence in the case.

As a result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Trujillo’s estate, the Amarillo Police Department has agreed to require additional training for all officers in use of deadly force against moving vehicles. The department also has forbidden use of weapon-mounted lights for its officers not involved in SWAT operations.

Weapon-mounted lights were used by Amarillo police the night Trujillo was shot.  What is called the OODA Loop – for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – can be disrupted by people caught in the glare of a weapon-mounted light.  “Such lights blind people and keep them in a cycle where they are unable to react to police commands,” which likely is what happened to Trujillo the night he was killed, said Jesse Quackenbush, a lawyer with Will Ferguson & Associates and an attorney for the Trujillo estate.

Police surrounded Trujillo’s black Chevy Tahoe and opened fire on it as it left a parking lot, shooting out all of the car’s windows, killing Trujillo and causing the car to crash into a building. The shooting was captured on police dash cam video. The voices on the video are prisoners handcuffed in the back of the parked squad car.

“They gave no warnings, they just started shooting,” Quackenbush said. Of the 40 rounds discharged by the four officers within five seconds, Attorney Randall Simms, of Texas’ 47th District, told Amarillo’s KAMR-TV, “I know, to some extent, it sounds like a firing squad lined up there. That’s not what happened.”

Written policies and sworn affidavits obtained in the Trujillo case confirm the lawsuit had led to the Amarillo Police Department reforms, Quackenbush said.

Quackenbush represents Trujillo’s parents, wife and daughter in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas. The suit charges denial of civil rights through excessive use of force. It cites Section 1983 of the U.S. Code, which allows civil lawsuits against persons acting under color of law.

The Trujillo family’s lawsuit alleges poor police training. Amarillo police have shot 27 people in the last 11 years, 14 of them fatally. A University of Texas at Arlington criminology professor called that number “impressive” in an article by the Amarillo Globe News examining the department’s use of deadly force.

The court initially dismissed the City of Amarillo as a defendant in the lawsuit but later reinstated the city as a party in the case. The case is pending.

The Will Ferguson & Associates Law Firm represents people seriously injured by the negligence of others and the families of persons who die because of the negligence of others. For more information, contact Will Ferguson & Associates at (505) 243-5566 or 1 (800) 251-5566.  In Amarillo, call (806) 374-4024.