LYNN — The widow of a man fatally shot by Lynn Police in 2015 is suing the detective involved and the city. Authorities determined in a prior investigation that the shooting was justified.
Rafael Suazo, 23, of Boston, was killed after he was shot in the head by Lynn Police Det. Stephen Emery on July 13, 2015 during a drug investigation.
His widow, Gabriela Suazo, also known as Gabriela Paling, has filed a federal lawsuit against Emery and the city, and is seeking unspecified damages for wrongful death.
The lawsuit was filed on Suazo’s behalf by her attorneys, Clyde D. Bergstresser, Russell X. Pollock and Richard Zabbo of the Boston-based law firm Bergstresser & Pollock.
“The shooting of the unarmed Mr. Suazo was unnecessary, unwarranted, unreasonable and unlawful,” the lawsuit reads.
According to the Essex County District Attorney’s office, the police-involved shooting stemmed from Suazo knocking Emery to the ground with his car. The detective suspected him of dealing drugs.
A spokesman for the Lynn Police Department referred all comment to the city’s law department.
George Markopoulos, the city solicitor, said on Sunday that the city had just received a copy of the lawsuit and will review the information.
“We do not comment on ongoing litigation,” Markopoulos said. “However, I believe that after we’ve reviewed it, that the City of Lynn (and) Police Department will be found not responsible for the actions or the allegations stated in the complaint.”
An investigation from the DA’s office determined that Emery, who was in plain clothes, acted in self-defense, firing a shot as the car was hitting him, which went through the driver’s side windshield and struck Suazo in the head. The investigation determined that the shooting was legally justified.
“The investigation found that Mr. Suazo purposefully accelerated his Ford, drove straight at and struck Det. Stephen Emery,” said Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett in a previous statement. “Det. Emery reasonably believed that he was in danger of serious injury or death, and therefore, bears no criminal responsibility for shooting Mr. Suazo in defense of himself.”
But the lawsuit claims that Emery was not in danger when he fired at Suazo.
“Defendant Emery was not at risk of deadly force from the Suazo vehicle when he shot and killed Suazo, as the front of the vehicle had already passed him and the vehicle was heading downhill and away from Defendant Emery,” the lawsuit reads. “With the now incapacitated Rafael Suazo behind the wheel, Suazo’s vehicle traveled down the Jefferson Street hill colliding with several vehicles with passengers at the bottom putting their lives at great risk unnecessarily and with gross disregard for public safety.”
The lawsuit reads that Emery was working undercover as part of the Lynn Police Department Drug Task Force on the day of the shooting, and was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked black Nissan sedan without police lights or sirens.
At approximately 11:30 a.m., the lawsuit reads, Emery witnessed a black Mercedes sedan driving in the vicinity of Grant Street, and suspecting that the car was engaging in a drug transaction, Emery called for backup, which Det. Michael Ferrano, who was also in plain clothes and an unmarked vehicle, responded to.
The lawsuit reads that Emery positioned himself at the top of the hill on Grant Street, while Emery placed himself farther down. Later, a Ford Escape SUV, driven by Suazo approached the Mercedes, and the two officers decided to follow the vehicles. The cars eventually pulled over and engaged in what the officers suspected was a drug transaction, but according to the lawsuit, police didn’t see drugs or weapons.
Paling’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit that it is policy and procedure for a marked police cruiser to stop a vehicle suspected of engaging in a drug transaction — Emery requested marked police cruisers pull over the two vehicles and other officers proceeded to respond. Emery followed Suazo’s Ford, while Ferraro followed the Mercedes.
According to the lawsuit, while waiting for marked police cars and uniformed officers to arrive, Emery said the Ford pulled over on Jefferson Street, with the driver’s side window closed and Suazo speaking on his cell phone.
Emery pulled over and parked his car approximately 30 feet in front of Suazo’s vehicle, and “violated his usual practice and procedure” and the “policy, practice and procedure” of the city and the Lynn Police Department by getting out of his vehicle in civilian clothes to stop a vehicle suspected of being involved in a drug transaction, according to the lawsuit.
At that point, the lawsuit reads that Suazo pulled away from the curve to travel down Jefferson Street when he was shot and killed by a single bullet fired into the side of his head by Emery as Suazo was driving by the plain clothed officer.
Paling’s attorneys wrote that the backup marked police cruiser was seconds away, making the “unlawful shooting of Mr. Suazo to apprehend him entirely unnecessary.” They wrote that Emery claims he identified himself as police, but that Emery admits he did not know if Suazo heard him identify himself because he could not tell if the windows were up.
“Defendant Emery provoked a situation in which Mr. Suazo was not a threat to anyone including officers and was suspected of a simple non-violent drug transaction,” the lawsuit reads. “Mr. Suazo did not swerve his vehicle towards Defendant Emery as he was pulling off the curb and heading straight down Jefferson Street.”
The lawsuit reads that as a result of Emery’s actions, Suazo suffered damages including wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering and other related expenses and damages, and that Emery used “unreasonable and excessive force” against Suazo.
The District Attorney’s investigation found that on the day of the shooting, Emery was working undercover for the Lynn Police Drug Task Force, observed a black Mercedes sedan on Grant Street waiting on the side of the road at approximately 11:30 a.m. Emery requested back-up from Ferraro after observing behavior consistent with a buyer waiting for a drug dealer.
Shortly after, the DA’s office said a Ford Escape driven by Suazo approached and was followed by the Mercedes — Emery then witnessed what he was suspected was a drug transaction after both vehicles pulled over. Emery followed the Ford, saw it pull over on Jefferson Street and pulled over approximately 30 feet in front of the Ford. Emery left his car, approached the Ford, held his badge up and said “police,” according to the investigation.
According to the DA’s office, Suazo accelerated away from the curb and toward Emery, who attempted to get out of the way. As the Ford was hitting Emery, the detective pulled out his department-issued firearm, fired one shot and fell to the ground. The shot went through the driver’s side windshield and struck Suazo in the head, the investigation found.
The DA’s investigation determined that “Emery was in imminent danger of being struck by the Ford driven by Mr. Suazo and killed or seriously injured,” and bears no criminal responsibility for shooting Suazo in self-defense.