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Criminal Justice

Family Of Man Killed By LAPD Says He Was Struggling With Mental Health

Oscar Leon Sanchez wears a green soccer jersey and holds a banner over his head that says Mexico in red lettering. A packed soccer stadium is in the background. He stands next to a man holding a Mexican flag.
Oscar Leon Sanchez (left) was fatally shot on Jan. 3.
(Courtesy Sanchez family )
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The family of Oscar Leon Sanchez says the 35-year-old was experiencing significant mental health issues when he was fatally shot in an encounter with LAPD officers last week.

According to an LAPD press release, Newton Division Officers responded to a call on Jan. 3 about a man allegedly threatening someone with a knife near the 2700 block of Central Avenue.

The department said officers found Leon at an abandoned home and later went inside to attempt an arrest. The LAPD claims Sanchez “stepped toward them while holding a two-foot-long metal object with an approximate three-inch spike protruding from one end,” at which point officers fired live and non-lethal ammunition. Sanchez was struck and killed by live ammunition, according to the department.

No officers were injured during the incident.

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Sanchez’s brother, Ysidro Leon, said at a press conference Sunday that Sanchez’s struggles with depression intensified after the death of their mother three years ago. Leon wore a t-shirt with his brother’s image on it Sunday.

Christian Contreras, an attorney representing the family, said Sanchez had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

“He was going through a mental health crisis and we know this department is ill-equipped ... to respond to mental health crisis and especially when it involves a Spanish speaker,” Contreras said Sunday.

Community organizers holding signs chanted “Justice for who? Oscar!” in front of the LAPD’s Newton station.

About two dozen organizers and family of Oscar Leon Sanchez stand together. Several hold signs which are bright green and orange. Signs read "Justice for Oscar Leon"
Organizers and family of Oscar Leon Sanchez come together for a photo outside of LAPD Newton station on Sunday.
(Robert Garrova / LAist )

“We see this as a pattern of police in this city and across the nation being called to respond to mental health crises and unfortunately in too many occasions we see lethal force be deployed,” said Alejandro Villalpando of the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police.

Sanchez’s family is demanding the LAPD immediately release all officer-worn body-cam footage as well as the names of the officers on scene.

Organizer Adriana Cabrera with South Central Mutual Aid said she recently learned that Sanchez was her cousin. “Our community is tired of having to bury our loved ones ... Every year after year I find myself organizing with our neighbors to help each other not just survive but also combat injustices from departments that are supposed to protect us and serve our community,” she said.

In an email, LAPD Captain Kelly Muniz said Chief Michel Moore “will be speaking on this matter at [the] Police Commission tomorrow [Tuesday] and we are expecting the critical incident video to be out this week.”

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The department did not comment on whether one of the LAPD’s specially-trained mental health units — which include an unarmed mental health clinician — had been dispatched before Sanchez was killed.

Sanchez’s death at the hands of police came the day after the fatal LAPD shooting of Takar Smith. The 40-year-old’s family told the Los Angeles Times that he had been on medication to treat schizophrenia.

What questions do you have about mental health in SoCal?
One of my goals on the mental health beat is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.