Nearly six years after police shot and killed a 15-year-old boy at his west Mesa home, the city plans to pay a $3 million settlement to the family of Mario Madrigal Jr.
The settlement marks the end of legal wrangling in federal court involving the high-profile case in which Madrigal’s family, supporters and activists staged annual protests in front of the Mesa Police Department.
But the boy’s father, still raw with emotion, said there still is no closure in his son’s death.
“Nothing is settled because there is always going to be the pain caused by the Mesa Police Department, a pain that we feel in our hearts every day,” Mario Madrigal Sr. told the Tribune on Wednesday.
The settlement stemmed from the fatal shooting of Madrigal Jr. on Aug. 25, 2003, when officers were called to the home at 513 S. Johnson to intervene as the boy was holding a kitchen knife and threatening suicide after drinking beer.
After police shot him with a Taser, three officers shot the boy 10 times as he was falling from the Taser shock in the doorway of the kitchen, according to Ray Slomski, the attorney who represented the Madrigal family, which contended the shooting was unnecessary.
“The amount of the settlement has proven that the Mesa Police Department was wrong,” Madrigal said.
The resolution does not indicate wrongdoing on the part of police personnel but was a business decision designed to conclude a difficult period for all concerned, Mesa police Chief George Gascón said in a statement.
“This incident was a tragedy for our community and a difficult situation for everyone involved,” Mesa Mayor Scott Smith was quoted as saying in a written statement issued by the city. “We believe that settling this 5-year-old case at this time is in the best interest of our city. We hope this settlement will bring some closure to those involved and allow them to move forward as best they can.”
Both the city and the Madrigal family hired renowned forensic experts to determine the projectile of the bullets, Slomski said. The family had said police shot the boy after he fell on the kitchen floor, but forensic evidence showed that his chest was 29 inches above the floor when he was shot, according to Slomski.
A few months after the shooting, then-Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley cleared three officers of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting, saying it was justified, and the family filed a federal lawsuit about a year after the shooting.
The city spent about $600,000 in litigation costs, expert fees and outside counsel during the course of the lawsuit, according to Steven Wright, a Mesa city spokesman.
Wright said the city will spend about $2.4 million out of its liability fund set aside for settlement payouts. The remaining $600,000 will be paid for by a city insurance carrier.
The city’s attorneys negotiated the settlement. Under the city’s charter, the City Council is not required to approve legal settlements. However, the City Council ordered the city to go to mediation with the family in April, Wright said.
Mario Madrigal Sr., who still lives in Mesa with his family, said the family moved from the residence where the shooting happened at 513 S. Johnson about seven months ago but still owns the house.
“It was too painful to stay in the same house because of what happened,” he said.
Slomski said, “No amount of money is going to change or erase the nightmare and end their grief, but it is a recognition. No settlement admits wrongdoing.”
The city said that a thorough police department investigation, which included input from the Maricopa County medical examiner, state Department of Public Safety and the FBI, concluded that Madrigal Jr. was holding a carving knife as he came at officers, who defended themselves by drawing their weapons.
“Unfortunately, even when police officers act appropriately, as they did in this case, tragic outcomes sometimes occur,” Gascón said.
Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, the public safety committee chairman for the council, said: “Many people are touched by these types of incidents. Now, hopefully those lives can begin the process of healing.”