Watch CBS News

Fontana pays $900,000 settlement after police interrogate man for 17 hours

Police interrogate Fontana man for 17 hours until he makes false murder confession
Police interrogate Fontana man for 17 hours until he makes false murder confession 05:06

After 17 hours of interrogation, Thomas Perez Jr. was in the throes of a complete mental breakdown as Fontana police detectives continued to grill him about his supposedly dead father. 

"We just told you we found your dead dad, and you don't give a [expletive]," one of the detectives said. 

Spiraling and looking for relief, Perez Jr. finally broke down and gave detectives what they wanted: a murder confession. Except there was one problem: the victim, his own father, was still alive.

"The worst act of deliberate cruelty that I've seen suing the police for 40 years," Perez's attorney, Jerry Steering, said. "I've never seen the cops be that cruel to someone."

The horrifying ordeal unfolded in 2018 but was finalized in 2024 after Steering secured a nearly $900,000 settlement from the city of Fontana for Perez Jr. 

Six years ago, Perez contacted the police to report his father missing after an argument at their family home. When police searched the house, investigators discovered Perez Sr.'s wallet, cell phone and even some blood stains. A K9 also alerted police to the odor of possible human remains. 

With this in mind, detectives unleashed an unrelenting line of questioning on Perez Jr., constantly badgering him about his father's alleged death until the psychological effects of hours of grilling took their toll on the man. 

After viciously pulling on his hair and ripping his shirt, Perez Jr. made a false confession to killing his father. In reality, 71-year-old Perez Sr. was alive. He went to his girlfriend's home but didn't have his cell phone. 

"I never thought that it was easy — maybe even possible to get a completely innocent person to confess to something like that," Steering said. "After I watched the video and watched the interrogation of Tom Perez, what I divined is that they could get you and I to confess to killing Abe Lincoln if they wanted to."

The marathon inquisition perpetrated by the Fontana Police Department was described as pure psychological torture.

"It's unbelievable. They're not amateurs, and they know what they're doing, and they know how to do it," Steering said.

Steering said even when detectives learned his father was alive, they didn't tell Perez Jr. Instead, they placed him on a psychiatric hold. 

"Once they learned this, instead of telling him that ... they 5150 him," Steering said. "They place him on a civil protective custody hold, have him taken to the mental hospital, and then they tell the hospital that he's in custody and they can't have anybody contacting him."

KCAL News contacted Fontana police and the city of Fontana before the end of the business day on Friday but did not hear back. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.