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San Diego County sued over police shooting death of a scientist during a routine eviction

Dr. Yan Li, a Yale-educated scientist was in the grips of a mental health crisis when deputies shot and killed her after she charged them with a kitchen knife.

SAN DIEGO — The son of a Yale-educated scientist who was shot and killed in March of last year by Sheriff's Deputies as they attempted to serve her with an eviction notice, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and the deputies involved.

The March 3, 2022 shooting of Dr. Yan Li drew criticism over the deadly use of force on someone who displayed signs of a mental health break and who may have had language barriers with the officers. That criticism included an op-ed in the San Diego Union Tribune from the dean of Yale School of Public Health which was submitted less than three weeks after the police shooting. The Yale News also wrote about the shooting in their paper.

According to the lawsuit as well as seen on police body cameras that were released after the shooting, Li was in the midst of a mental health crisis when Sheriff's Deputies knocked on her door to serve an eviction notice.

Li answered the door holding a small kitchen knife.


Moments after she opened the door, Li became angry and questioned whether or not the deputies were actually law enforcement. Deputies immediately raised their guns. She slammed the door and retreated into a back bedroom. A Sheriff's Deputy began shouting at Li.

Additional deputies arrived on the scene armed with non-lethal bean bag guns and a Sheriff's K9. 

According to the lawsuit, deputies entered the Little Italy apartment, despite Li not posing a threat to any of the deputies or members of the public, and without help from a mental health expert.

Once inside, deputies fired a bean bag at Li and, according to the lawsuit, "deployed flash-bang rounds against [Li]."

Reads the lawsuit, "The inappropriate beanbag and flash-bang deployment escalated the situation and caused [Li] to move toward the front door to her unit and to exit her unit, into the hallway... Rather than deploying force against [Li], the officers should have summoned mental health assistance for [Li] and ensured that there was appropriate personnel on scene to bridge any obvious language barriers."

After the altercation inside, Li ran out of the apartment with the knife in her hand. Li stabbed a deputy as deputies fired their guns, killing her.

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, alleges that deputies failed to follow what it calls the most "basic" police training.

"The shooting was an excessive and unreasonable use of force, including because [Li] was not armed with a gun and posed no immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to any person immediately prior to or at the time of the shots. The shooting and other uses of force against [Li] were inappropriate and violated the officers’ and deputies’ training and basic police training. Officers are required to justify every shot they fire, and here, none of the shots were justified."

District Attorney Summer Stephan's Office is currently investigating the shooting. 

CBS 8 reached out to the Sheriff's Department and the County for a statement. This article will be updated when a response is provided.

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