Family sues over death of hostage in California police shootout

August 18, 2015 7:34 PM EDT

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By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - The family of a California woman taken hostage by bank robbers and killed in a shootout with police filed a lawsuit on Tuesday accusing officers of causing her 2014 death by indiscriminately firing hundreds of bullets at the suspects' vehicle.

The filing of the lawsuit came a day after the release of an independent report that found Stockton police fired too many rounds without a clear target during the gun battle when they accidentally killed the hostage.

The report from the Washington-based Police Foundation also called the July 2014 hostage-taking and rolling gun battle an unprecedented case for U.S. law enforcement.

Three suspects armed with an AK-47 rifle escaped from a Stockton bank in an SUV, and they went on to disable 14 police vehicles by firing at them during an hour-long chase.

In the final deadly confrontation, after police shot at the tires of the SUV and brought it careening to a stop, some officers fired indiscriminately without a clear target, the report found.

Ultimately, police fired 600 rounds, according to the report, which stated such a high number of bullets was "unnecessary and excessive."

Misty Holt-Singh, a 41-year-old woman who had visited the bank and was taken hostage by the robbers, died from 10 rounds fired by officers and was found in the vehicle, police said.

"We believe the right thing for the city to do is to continue to accept responsibility and get this matter resolved," Greg Bentley, an attorney for the woman's family, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of her family accuses the city and police of negligence, battery and violating her civil rights. It seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

Officers failed to "effectively direct their deadly gunfire away from Misty" and instead fired indiscriminately, the lawsuit stated.

Two of the bank robbers also were killed in the shootout, and a third suspected robber, who police say survived by using Holt-Singh as a shield, was arrested. The getaway vehicle was riddled with over 200 bullets.

Stockton City Attorney John Luebberke in a statement declined to comment on the lawsuit, but he added that the independent report was requested by the city's police chief.

"The purpose of the report is to help law enforcement agencies prepare for a similar critical incident, not to second-guess split-second decisions made by officers in the midst of an extremely dangerous event," Luebberke said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beech)

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