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Man with mental illness dies in LA deputy confrontation

September 23, 2020 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man with a history of mental illness died after Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies entered his room as he slept, and then beat and shocked him and compressed his neck, according to an autopsy and his family.

Eric Briceno, 39, died in March and his parents have filed a wrongful death claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, and are calling for the deputies involved to face criminal charges, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

“We called them to come and help us, to get some help,” his mother, Blanca Briceno, told the paper. “And instead, they came and killed him, brutally killed him.”

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The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment to the Times because of the ongoing investigation.

According to the family’s claim, Briceno began showing symptoms of mental illness in high school and was diagnosed with mild schizophrenia. He had spent time in jail for using drugs but was on probation and receiving treatment through the county Department of Mental Health when he got into an altercation with his father on March 16.

Briceno left the family’s Maywood home as his parents called 911. Arriving deputies told them to call back when Briceno returned.

Briceno was sleeping in his room when deputies were called back to the home.

Investigators told coroner’s officials that Briceno, who was 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds (136 kilograms), attacked the deputies and resisted arrest, according to the autopsy report cited by the Times.

His mother said the deputies startled Briceno but he didn’t attack them.

“They went, ‘Eric, Eric!’ So he got scared,” she said. “He wasn’t doing anything; he wasn’t aggressive, nothing.”

She said the deputies attacked Briceno without provocation, beating him, using a baton, pepper spray and a Taser, and kneeling on his back.

Briceno cried out that he couldn’t breathe, the claim said.

His mother said she pleaded for deputies to stop and when she took out her phone to record the scene, a deputy took it away and she was pushed out of the room.

Briceno died at a hospital.

The autopsy report said Briseno was shocked with a Taser seven or eight times. It concluded he died of cardiopulmonary arrest resulting from neck compression and restraint with a Taser, the Times said.

Methamphetamine found in his system was a contributor but not the immediate cause of his death, the report said.

“He didn’t die a natural death,” said Briceno’s father, Juan. “He died because of police brutality.”

The Sheriff’s Department has 33 Mental Evaluation Teams, which include licensed mental health experts trained to deescalate situations involving those in mental health crisis. But it doesn’t appear any team members responded in Briceno’s case, said Samuel Paz, an attorney for the family.