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Son of scientist fatally shot by law enforcement during confrontation in Little Italy sues city, county

San Diego Union Tribune logo San Diego Union Tribune 3/15/2023 Teri Figueroa

The son of a Yale-trained scientist who was fatally shot by police and sheriff's deputies inside a Little Italy condo building is suing the city and the county in federal court for wrongful death, citing use of excessive force and other allegations.

Yan Li, 47, was shot after she stabbed a law enforcement officer during a confrontation that started with an when sheriff's deputies attempted to serve her an eviction notice from her fifth-floor unit at Acqua Vista Condominiums on West Beech Street on March 3, 2022.

The lawsuit states that Li was "clearly in a state of mental crisis" and was "exhibiting signs of being mentally ill" when she answered her condo door while holding a knife. The suit also contends that Li had been cooking in her kitchen before the knock at the door.

The son claims in the suit that Li did not threaten the deputy who had come to serve the eviction notice. He alleges that when his mother doubted that the deputy was a law enforcement officer, and suggested he might be an intruder, it indicated "that she was experiencing a mental crisis," and law enforcement officers should have recognized that.

The complaint states that Li had a history of mental illness but does not further specify any diagnosis.

Less than an hour after she slammed the door, deputies and at least one police officer entered her apartment. She charged with a knife and stabbed an officer. She was then fatally shot.

A San Diego police spokesman declined to comment on the pending litigation, and the Sheriff's Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The suit, filed Monday, also names as defendants the law enforcement officers at the scene that day.

Li's son is identified only as D.S. in the lawsuit, which notes that he lives in San Diego. The Union-Tribune reported last year that he was 20 years old when his mother was shot.

The suit sets forth 11 claims, including unlawful detention, excessive force, inadequate training, false arrest or imprisonment and negligence against the defendants. It does not specify a monetary amount the son is seeking if a judge or jury decides in his favor.

The encounter was caught on a camera worn by the sheriff's deputy trying to serve Li an eviction notice, and cameras worn by other deputies and officers who responded to the scene.

Body-worn camera video shows her the door and deputy hands her the paperwork — then he spots a large knife in her right hand, down at her side. He draws his gun and shouts: “Put the knife down right now or I’m gonna (expletive) shoot."

He repeats the order. Li shouts back for him to put his gun down. “How could I know you are not intruder?” she asks him. She yells, "Call the police!"

After some back and forth yelling at each other, she accuses him of being a fake police officer, throws the paperwork and slams her door.

The video picks up about eight minutes later when Bunch’s supervisor arrives and Li can be heard shouting from behind her closed door. Forty minutes after that, the video resumes with deputies and San Diego police officers with dogs preparing to go into Li’s condo.

They enter. She runs from the bedroom and stabs one of them at her door. Police and deputies open fire, striking her.

The lawsuit states that after the initial encounter, Li was inside her condo and "was not posing a threat to any person."

The suit alleges that law enforcement officers used excessive and unreasonable force when they deployed flash bangs and beanbag rounds, and those actions escalated the encounter.

"Rather than deploying force against (Li), the officers should have summoned mental health assistance for (Li) and ensured that there were appropriate personnel on scene to bridge any obvious language barriers," the suit states.

Li was born and raised in China, and followed her now-ex husband to the United States in 1997. She earned a doctorate from Yale University in 2003 and went on to work as a biostatistician in academic institutions and the pharmaceutical industry, friends and family told the Union-Tribune last year.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.


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