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Criminal Justice

LA Sheriff Releases Isaias Cervantes Shooting Video — But Questions Remain

Isaias points to the the back of a jersey that has his name on it.
Isaias Cervantes
(Courtesy Cervantes family )
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The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has released body camera footage of the March 31 encounter that left 25-year-old Isaias Cervantes shot and critically injured. But the video leaves a number of questions unanswered, since both deputies’ cameras were reportedly knocked off during the struggle that preceded one of them shooting Cervantes.

The incident occurred after a family member called 911 and said Cervantes, who has autism, “was having a mental health crisis and creating a disturbance by pushing other family members,” according to the 20-minute narrated video, which includes the 911 call and additional department commentary.

Because the deputies’ cameras fell off during the struggle, the footage does not capture the critical moments of the encounter.

The moments leading up to the scuffle are clear, however.

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The deputies walk to the threshold of the home and ask Cervantes to step outside to talk. The department said he refused and invited them inside, although that is not audible on the video.

When deputies enter the home, Cervantes is sitting calmly on the couch. One deputy says, “You’re not under arrest but you’re not giving me no option ... [other than] to place handcuffs on you.”

‘He’s Going For My Gun!'

Cervantes complies after deputies ask him to stand up, at which point they each grab one of his arms and attempt to handcuff him. Suddenly he begins to resist, followed seconds later by the cameras becoming “dislodged” and falling on the floor, according to the department.

The department claims during the ensuing struggle, which can be heard but not seen on the video, Cervantes tried to take one of the deputy’s guns. A deputy is heard yelling, “He’s going for my gun!” The department provided what it said is a screenshot of footage shot by one of the fallen body cams showing Cervantes’ hand over a deputy’s firearm, but it’s not entirely clear.

The second deputy fired one shot, hitting Cervantes “in the left side of his torso,” according to the department. Austin Dove, one of the Cervantes family’s attorneys, said Cervantes was shot “in the back, center, through the spine.”

The video claims before he was shot, Cervantes punched one of the deputies and “used his hand to gouge the deputy’s face and eyes.” After Cervantes has been shot, one of the deputies is heard saying, “he scratched my eye and was scratching my face.”

The department said the deputy suffered “facial abrasions, bilateral eye contusions, corneal abrasions and a cervical sprain.”

Cervantes is still in the ICU and his family worries that he will be permanently paralyzed.

‘All This Was Unnecessary’

“All this is an escalation, all this was unnecessary,” said Dove at a press conference Thursday. He has said the family plans to sue the county over the incident.

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Disability advocates from across California have expressed outrage at the shooting and have rallied in support of the Cervantes family.

After watching the video, Eric Harris, director of public policy for Disability Rights California, questioned the deputies’ decision to handcuff Cervantes.

“I just didn’t see — based on what Isaias was doing at that moment, because he was so calm — that it was necessary,” Harris said. His group put out a statement last week saying it was “horrified by the violence” against Cervantes.

“We are the voice for our kids,” disability advocate Cendy Topete said Thursday. “I can see myself in that situation,” said Topete, who has two kids with disabilities. “That terrifies me.”

‘MET Was Not Notified’

It’s unclear whether the responding deputies had any training to de-escalate situations involving people with autism or other disabilities.

Lt. John Gannon, who until recently headed up the Sheriff’s Department’s Mental Evaluation Teams (MET), said in an email that “if patrol knows a call involves an autistic person in crisis, they would indeed notify MET to co-respond.” MET teams consist of a specially-trained deputy and a Department of Mental Health clinician.

“MET was not notified to co-respond,” to the Cervantes incident, Gannon told us.