Questions arise over police shooting of Filipino-American man in Los Angeles
Miguel Delos Santos was experiencing a mental health emergency when an LAPD officer shot him back on April 23. He has yet to recovery from his injuries
A Filipino-American family is seeking answers after their 27-year-old son was shot multiple times during an encounter with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies in late April.
In the early morning of Friday, April 23, Miguel Delos Santos was experiencing a mental health emergency, and his family called 911 in hopes that medical professionals could alleviate his symptoms and transfer him to a safer space.
But what transpired was a nightmare — and it is still ongoing. Delos Santos’ fiance, Cielo Zavala Esquivel, found him lying on their bedroom floor in a fetal position, and he was reportedly unresponsive and incoherent.
Esquivel was the one who called 911 and just as the paramedics arrived, Delos Santos allegedly stumbled into the hallway of their South L.A. home, found a nearby pen and attempted to stab himself in the neck with it.
LASD deputies were also on the scene and were able to restrain Delos Santos, and he was then transported via ambulance for treatment at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood.
Following the incident, around 4 p.m. that same day, Delos Santos was discharged from the hospital, and Esquivel found him at the front of their home, but he did not appear to be well.
The lawyer representing Delos Santos’ family, Claire Espina, recounted the events to The Asian Journal.
“She let him in, but it did not seem like he should have been released,” she said.
Espina said that he was still incoherent, paranoid and delusional, claiming that “people were out to get him.”
Delos Santos was not showing any signs of violent behavior, but his fiance was still very concerned for his safety, so she once again called 911 after failing to return him to a calmer state of mind.
The 27-year-old was said to have complied with both paramedics and LASD deputies and was taken away by an ambulance for a second time.
However, less than an hour passed, and Delos Santos was back at home, continuing to voice his fears that “people were trying to kill him,” according to Espina.
For a third time, Esquivel called for help, and the paramedics and deputies showed up with a mental health evaluation team. For about three hours, they begged Delos Santos to leave the house, but he managed to escape through a side door at around 8 p.m.
As he began making his way to the gate of their front yard, Esquivel recalled hearing five or six gunshots, before her fiance fell to the ground.
A report from the LASD’s homicide investigators alleged that Delos Santos — who is not referenced in the report by name — was “holding a butcher’s knife in each hand but refused to drop the knives.”
The report claimed that a “40mm less-lethal stun round” was used to stop him, but it was unsuccessful. It asserted that the “suspect” began charging at the deputies, causing them to deploy two more tasers, which also had no effect.
“The man continued to charge at the deputies, with both knives still in hand, when a deputy-involved shooting occurred,” the report said.
Please share this, my friend is in critical condition from the reckless response from LAPD to a mental health call. He was shot several times under no justifiable circumstances. I'm so disturbed and heartbroken over this situation https://t.co/yw31PKpDKA
— (@gvvenivere) May 7, 2021
Esquivel did not recall anything close to the events outlined in this report. She said she did not see Delos Santos holding any knives in his hands, nor did she see him charge at an officer.
After the shooting, Delos Santos was transported to the same Lynwood hospital, undergoing a series of surgeries, as the gunshot wounds punctured several vital organs, including his right kidney and liver.
As of Wednesday, May 12, it is still unclear whether Delos Santos will fully recover from his serious injuries.
Espina described his current condition, which is quite severe. The bullets hit his torso and lower left side, reportedly destroying his right kidney, and obliterating 15% of his liver.
Espina said that his leg is fractured and that there is a bullet lodged in his spine, as well as pelvis.
“Is this how you respond to someone who is obviously having a medical or psychological crisis? These are issues that need to be looked at,” she said.
PLEASE take a moment to read and share. My rave bro was going through a mental health crisis and was shot by LAPD. Having mental health issues is NOT a crime and shouldn’t be treated this way #justiceformigueldelossantos #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth pic.twitter.com/YxIW6bmqxU
— KYLE (@gargoyles29) May 5, 2021
Espina told The Asian Journal that she is taking the mental health component into serious consideration, because it’s well-known that “most mental health encounters with law enforcement result in death of serious bodily injury.”
Those with untreated serious mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than other civilians, according to a 2015 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
The young man’s mother, Stephanie Delos Santos, left her home in Washington, to work with Espina for conservatorship to handle his care. But larger issues are arising surrounding the use of excessive force by law enforcement, specifically in a mental health situation.
More than 1,300 of the fatal shootings by police since 2014 involved someone the police said was having a mental health crisis. That’s about 25 percent of all people killed by police during that timespan.
Police are not mental health professionals.
— The Progressive (@theprogressive) May 11, 2021
Espina is deeply troubled by the fact that there were three interventions on behalf of paramedics, yet they all failed to properly treat Delos Santos.
“He should have been on that 72-hour hold. If they did not pay attention to those issues initially, I think there is a failure of care here — not only on the law enforcement side but the paramedics and hospital,” Espina said.
Delos Santos’ family is now opening up about their son’s history with depression and use of opioids in the past. However, no drugs were present in his system at the time of the incident, and he has allegedly been free of use for several years.
He had been residing in L.A. for many years, working as a server at restaurants in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, but became unemployed during the pandemic, which his family believes could have contributed to his mental distress.
But according to a statement his mother emailed to The Asian Journal, Delos Santos had things to look forward to, as he was heading towards a career change.
“He began and completed the full stack web development program at UCLA Extension right at the beginning of the pandemic. He’s very good at coding, and you could tell he enjoyed it,” she said.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Delos Santos’ family with medical expenses, and it has raised a little over $19,000 as of May 14.
Espina is also calling on the local Filipino-American community to help pressure the LASD to release body cam footage from April 23 as well as other information on the investigation.
“Community pressure results in discovery being obtained. The expression of support becomes very important in these cases so that information is disgorged. Otherwise, it would be swept under the rug and the community would never find out about these things,” Espina said.