$900,000 Settlement After 'Psychological Torture' Spurs False Murder Confession

A California man received a $900,000 settlement from the city of Fontana after he was wrongly accused of killing his father and gave detectives a false confession amid “psychological torture,” his lawyer announced Thursday.

Thomas Perez Jr. was never formally arrested, but he was taken to the Fontana Police Department on Aug. 8, 2018, after he reported his father missing, according to a press release sent to HuffPost.

There, Perez endured an intense 17-hour interrogation by multiple detectives who used a series of traumatic techniques to get a confession, including threatening his beloved dog, the press release said.

But Perez’s father was alive and well the entire time, said his attorney, Jerry Steering.

The Orange County Register reported on the six-figure settlement for Perez this week, bringing national attention to the case.

An image of the Fontana Police Department, via Google Maps.
An image of the Fontana Police Department, via Google Maps. Google Maps

Authorities began suspecting Perez after finding that his missing father had left behind his cellphone and wallet at their shared home. Officers also claimed that they discovered bloodstains inside the home and said that K-9 dogs detected a “deceased human remain odor,” according to a June 2023 court order of summary judgment, which was obtained by HuffPost.

Video evidence cited in the document revealed that officers “verbally berated” Perez, alleging that he’d killed his dad. They also insisted that he did not need access to his psychiatric medication, per the judgment.

Perez maintained that he did not recall killing his father, but authorities told him that the memory of killing his dad was too painful to remember, according to the press release sent to HuffPost.

At one point, authorities told Perez that his father had been found dead with stab marks on his body and that his remains had already been delivered to the morgue, the press release read.

Detectives eventually brought Perez’s dog into the interrogation room and told him that it would be euthanized if he did not confess to killing his father, according to the judgment.

“How can you sit there, how can you sit there and say you don’t know what happened, and your dog is sitting there looking at you, knowing that you killed your dad?” one detective said. “Look at your dog. She knows, because she was walking through all the blood.”

The judgment noted that Perez was under obvious strain, pulling at his hair, hitting himself, and tearing off his own shirt before nearly falling to the floor. In the video evidence cited by the document, officers could be seen laughing at Perez as they told him that he was stressing the dog.

Authorities also summoned his friend to the station to speak to Perez to “help elicit a confession based on threats of prosecution,” according to the judgement. The friend told Perez that “they say they have enough evidence.”

Perez eventually gave detectives a confession. Shortly afterward, he was left alone in the interrogation room and attempted to hang himself by using his shoelaces as a makeshift noose, according to the judgment.

Perez was then taken to a hospital and put on a psychiatric hold for 72 hours. Authorities told hospital staffers to not permit anyone to contact him.

Detectives received a phone call from Perez’s sister that night, informing them that their father was still alive. It turned out that he was with a “lady friend” in El Monte.

But because Perez was on a psychiatric hold, he was not immediately contacted and told that his father was safe.

“Between mentally torturing a false confession out of Tom Perez, concealing from him that his father was alive and well, and confining him in the psych ward because they made him suicidal, in my 40 years of suing the police I have never seen that level of deliberate cruelty,” said Steering, the attorney.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee stated in the judgment that “a reasonable juror could conclude that the Detectives inflicted unconstitutional psychological torture on Perez.”

After the harrowing ordeal, Perez is “doing fine now,” Steering told HuffPost in an email. He has also been reunited with his dog, the Register reported.

Fontana police did not respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.

Steering said in the press release that Perez agreed to settle the case because of “looming possibility that the Fontana Officers might have prevailed on an appeal.”

According to the attorney, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been tossing police misconduct lawsuits based on the doctrine of qualified immunity, which the Legal Defense Fund describes as a “judge-created rule that protects government officials, including police officers, when they are sued.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org for mental health support. Additionally, you can find local mental health and crisis resources at dontcallthepolice.com. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.