It has been more than three years since Evie Oquendo’s 15-year-old son was killed by a Las Vegas police officer, but the painful memories linger.
“The only reason I get up in the morning is to fight for my son,” Oquendo said Wednesday. “My life is on pause like it just happened. It doesn’t get better. ... But that’s the driving factor — justice for my son.”
Her drive for justice advanced last month when a federal judge allowed her lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department to proceed on several key claims related to the 2009 shooting of her mentally ill son, Tanner Chamberlain. Las Vegas police officer Derek Colling shot the teen while he held a knife near his mother’s neck.
Speaking at her lawyer’s office, Oquendo said she was pleased with the judge’s decision to allow her lawsuit to move closer to trial. She filed the civil rights case in 2011.
Lawyers for the Police Department had asked U.S. District Judge Miranda Du to dismiss the lawsuit, a common legal maneuver in such cases. In her March 28 decision, Du agreed with police lawyers and dismissed several legal claims, including Oquendo’s claim that she was illegally detained by police for three hours after her son’s death because she refused to give a statement.
But the judge let stand several claims stemming from the shooting, including those for excessive force and wrongful death.
“Considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court cannot determine that, as a matter of law, Officer Colling’s decision to use deadly force was reasonable,” Du wrote, saying those claims should be considered by a jury.
Las Vegas police appealed the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a move that Oquendo’s lawyer, Brent Bryson, called a “stall tactic.”
A police spokesman said the department would not comment on pending litigation.
Bryson said it is in the community’s best interest for the lawsuit to go to trial.
“For too long ... this community has been subjected to whatever our law enforcement officers wanted to do,” Bryson said.
“It’s time this community steps up and says, ‘We’re not going to tolerate this anymore.’ ”
Colling was fired from the Police Department in 2011 for an unrelated incident in which he beat and falsely arrested a videographer shooting footage from his driveway.
Bryson said appeals by police could mean the case might not reach trial for years.
Oquendo should be commended for her strength, he said, because police are hoping his client drops the lawsuit as the years drag on.
Bryson said he is tired of some cynics saying he and his client filed the lawsuit to earn a quick buck.
“Anyone who thinks this is a quick fix, a quick check ... get a clue, people.”
Oquendo said she will stick through the legal process in hopes the case one day reaches a jury.
“I’m not going to give up,” she said. “This is what I know my son would want.”