Video newly released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department shows the chaotic moments before a deputy shot and wounded a 25-year-old man with autism in his Cudahy home last month.
Isaias Cervantes’ relatives say, however, that the video doesn’t tell the entire story and they believe the shooting was not justified. The man was unarmed, but a deputy said he reached for his gun.
Advocates and families of disabled and mentally ill individuals demonstrated outside L.A. City Hall Thursday in response to the release of body-worn camera video in the shooting, calling for greater accountability from the Sheriff’s Department.
The Cudahy City Council has also called for an independent investigation into the shooting by the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI and California attorney general’s office.
Speaking outside City Hall, family attorney Austin Dove said Cervantes was shot in the back and could possibly be paralyzed for life.
“He was shot in the back, center, through the spine. And that bullet left shrapnel it was so close,” he said. “It traveled through his spine, ripped through his lungs.”
Relatives say Cervantes was going through a mental health crisis the evening of March 31, and they called 911 in an effort to get him help after he got physical with his mother in their home on the 5100 block of Live Oak Street.
“He’s here in the house. Can you guys send him to the hospital?” his sister is heard asking a dispatcher in 911 audio released by sheriff’s officials.
She also says a therapist had come to the home to help calm Cervantes, but “he’s just getting violent.”
In the audio the sister says Cervantes has obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, is hard of hearing, and is on medication.
According to sheriff’s officials’ record of the initial incident report, the dispatcher did not relay information to responding deputies about Cervantes’ hearing issues.
The family also says Cervantes has autism, but it’s unclear if that was communicated to deputies before they entered the home. The Sheriff’s Department bodycam video opens with deputies gathering information from Cervantes’ mother outside the home, but the beginning portion does not have audio.
When audio does become engaged, Cervantes’ mom tells the deputies law enforcement had been to the home to speak with her son before, but he had not become aggressive.
This time, the situation turned violent soon after deputies made contact with Cervantes, who was sitting on the living room couch. He refused to go outside but invited the deputies in.
Before even entering the home, one of the deputies says Cervantes is giving him “no option but to place handcuffs on you,” and they immediately begin working to take him into custody.
But Cervantes fights back just as swiftly. The video captures about 10 seconds of a scuffle between him and the deputies before both deputies’ bodycams end up on the ground. The Sheriff’s Department says the cameras became dislodged.
Authorities alleged that Cervantes attacked one of the deputies, gouging at his eyes while trying to disarm him. But the family’s attorney says that’s a lie, and that Cervantes was dominated by deputies.
The Sheriff’s Department does say the deputy was able to keep his gun in its holster.
In the video, his partner is heard asking, “Does he have your gun?” But gunshots ring out before there’s an answer.
The shooting happened in front of Cervantes’ mother, sister and behavioral therapist. According to audio from the bodycam video, also in the home was Cervantes’ twin brother with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair.
Cervantes was struck once in the left side of his torso, and in the video deputies can be heard continuing to struggle with Cervantes after he’s before handcuffing him. The 25-year-old was subsequently taken to a hospital.
Officials say the deputy attacked suffered facial and corneal abrasions, bilateral eye contusions, and a cervical sprain.
Cervantes had no criminal history, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Advocates and family members say the deputies involved did not use proper training for dealing with someone with a mental health issue.
Speaking at City Hall Thursday, Elizabeth Gomez with Disability Voices United said incidents like this make family members of those with disabilities deeply distrust law enforcement.
“We are horrified about what happened,” she said. “He has autism. It’s a condition that does not allow a person to act in a manner that someone is asking.”
Fernando Gomez, also with Disability Voices United, said Cervantes’ mindset is closer to that of a 6- or 7-year-old than a 25-year-old man.
“He’s a beautiful, loving and just amazing young man,” Gomez said. “He is not a threat.”