Fontana Settles $900,000 Lawsuit After 17-Hour Interrogation Leads To False Confession And Mental Breakdown

Thomas Perez Jr.

The city of Fontana, California, has agreed to pay $900,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Thomas Perez Jr., who was subjected to a grueling 17-hour interrogation by police that led to a false confession and a suicide attempt.

The lawsuit highlights severe misconduct by law enforcement, including false accusations, threats, and deprivation of necessary medication.

False Accusation and Extended Interrogation

In 2018, Perez Jr. reported his 71-year-old father, Thomas Perez Sr., missing after the elder Perez failed to return from walking the family dog. Perez Jr. voluntarily went to the Fontana police station to assist in the search.

During his stay, police obtained a search warrant for his home, finding small blood stains and receiving a corpse-dog alert, which led them to suspect Perez Jr.

Abusive Interrogation Tactics

Video footage from the interrogation shows Fontana police falsely informing Perez Jr. that his father’s body had been found and that there was evidence implicating him in the murder.

Throughout the 17-hour ordeal, detectives deprived Perez Jr. of sleep, withheld his medications for depression, stress, asthma, and high blood pressure, and subjected him to intense psychological pressure.

Psychological Torture

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee noted in her summary that Perez Jr. exhibited signs of extreme distress, including pulling his hair, hitting himself, and tearing off his shirt.

Despite his obvious anguish, officers laughed at him, threatened to euthanize his dog, and even brought the dog into the interrogation room to further intimidate him. Under this duress, Perez Jr. confessed to stabbing his father with scissors.

Attempted Suicide and Subsequent Discovery

Following his coerced confession, Perez Jr. attempted suicide in the interrogation room.

He was subsequently transferred to a psychiatric hospital. While he was hospitalized, police found his father alive and well at Los Angeles International Airport.

Legal Aftermath

Perez Jr. filed a lawsuit against the city of Fontana in 2019, claiming violations of his due process rights, unreasonable search and seizure, and excessive force.

The Supreme Court’s 1969 ruling in Frazier v. Cupp permits police to lie during interrogations, but this case underscored the dangers of such tactics when they escalate to psychological torture.

Judge Gee ruled that the detectives’ actions constituted unconstitutional psychological torture, leading to Perez Jr.’s false confession and suicide attempt.

She stated that no legitimate government interest could justify their conduct.

Settlement and Ongoing Employment

The settlement of $900,000 aims to compensate Perez Jr. for the severe emotional and psychological harm he endured. Despite the misconduct, three of the involved officers remain employed by the Fontana Police Department, while one has retired.

This case underscores the critical need for reform in police interrogation practices to prevent future instances of psychological torture and false confessions.