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Woman shot by San Diego police during East Village standoff files lawsuit alleging excessive force

A mentally ill woman who was shot several times during a brief standoff with San Diego police is suing the department, alleging excessive force and civil rights violations.

In her lawsuit, Rosa Calva, now 28, accuses the department of failing to de-escalate the 2020 encounter in the bathroom of her fourth-floor East Village studio apartment. The lawsuit was filed last week in San Diego federal court.

San Diego police declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Calva’s attorney Brody McBride said Tuesday that his client, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and has a history of mental health issues, was having a mental health crisis on the night of the incident when she broke a window and dropped items onto the street below.

Witnesses called 911. Police arrived to find her holed up in her bathroom.

McBride said that instead of slowing down the encounter, officers with a police dog busted open a hole in the door of the windowless bathroom and fired pepperballs inside.

“This is somebody who is just sick and not thinking rationally,” McBride said. “Dog barking, (officers) kicking a hole in the wall and shooting pepper spray. How do you think she was interpreting all that?”

Within 20 minutes of reaching her apartment, officers forced their way inside the 5-foot by 5-foot bathroom where Calva was armed with a steak knife. She was shot during the struggle, then the police dog clamped down on her arm for a full minute, her attorney said.

The suit states that more than a dozen officers were at the scene and none of them objected “to the rapid and unnecessary escalation” in a confrontation with a person in the throes of an “obvious” mental health crisis.

That, the suit alleges, “demonstrates a serious lack of training regarding generally accepted-law enforcement procedures for handling people experiencing a mental health crisis.”

The encounter was caught on cameras worn by officers at the scene. But it took San Diego police two years to release the footage despite state law mandating most such videos be released within 45 days.

In Calva’s case, the Police Department cited an exemption in the law that allows video to be withheld if disclosing it would interfere with the “successful completion” of an investigation.

The department shared the footage in May of this year, about three weeks after the First Amendment Coalition — which advocates for open and transparent government — threatened to sue.

The incident started shortly before 10 p.m. May 23, 2020, when Calva broke a window and began hurling items out of it. One 911 caller said Calva threw “furniture, glass, a mop, everything,” and some items landed at a trolley stop at Park and Market.

The suit states the apartment building was “known to house individuals struggling with mental health issues.” Police obtained a key from the manager and entered her apartment.

According to the lawsuit, police did not call for the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team or any negotiator. Instead, one of the officers shouted orders for Calva to open the bathroom door or they would release the police dog.

She remained holed up inside the bathroom. Police used a tool known as a Halligan bar to enlarge a hole in the door, eventually making it big enough for the dog to stick its head through.

Officers then kicked in the door, wrestled with Calva and opened fire. They also released the dog.

Records later released by police indicated that the county District Attorney’s Office cleared the officer who shot Calva, and that the Police Department determined the officer followed policy.

After the encounter, Calva was charged in San Diego Superior Court with assault on a police officer, but was later deemed incompetent to stand trial.

Her competency was eventually restored, and she was placed in a mental health diversion program. After two years in the program, if she stays out of trouble and has no bad contact with police, the charges will be dropped.

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