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Patient Shot By Sheriff's Deputy Inside Harbor-UCLA Has Died, Family Says

Nicholas Burgos was described as a big-hearted, funny man who struggled with mental health and substance abuse. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Burgos)
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The patient shot last month by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy inside Harbor-UCLA Medical Center has died.

Siblings of Nicholas Burgos say he died Nov. 1 at the Torrance hospital -- nearly a month after a deputy opened fire while he was experiencinga mental health crisis.

A report by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner's office said that 38-year-old Burgos' death was related to multiple gunshot wounds in an incident described as a homicide.

"I know a lot of people think that he probably made it but he didn't," Burgos' younger brother, Benjamin, told LAist Sunday night. "I don't think nobody can survive that."

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The shooting is the subject of several investigations and has sparked demonstrations by health care workers from Harbor-UCLA and other hospitals who contend that staff could have de-escalated the situation without deputies. Some argued that law enforcement needs to be removed from health care settings because they can stoke fear in marginalized patients and undermine the work of clinicians.

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is investigating the October patient shooting.

"The really vicious shooting of Nicholas Burgos just demonstrates their counterproductive presence in our hospitals and our community clinics," said Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson, founder of the Frontline Wellness Network, which organizes against police violence.

The fatal patient shooting is the second one at Harbor-UCLA in five years. In 2015, an LAPD officer who shot Ruben Herrara accused the 26-year-old patient of taking his gun. A federal jury sided with Herrara's parents, ordering the city to pay them $3.9 million.

The Harbor-UCLA shooting last month involved a deputy who was not assigned to the hospital. She had been guarding an injured colleague when -- according to the Sheriff's Department -- she confronted a man who was smashing a door window to the colleague's room with a steel medical device.

The deputy fired nine bullets -- seven of which struck the man, leaving him critically injured, the Sheriff's Department said. There was no security camera footage and the deputies were not wearing body cameras.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva in a news conference said the incident was like a scene out of the horror film, "The Shining."

Family say Nicholas Burgos died Nov. 1, nearly a month after he was shot by a sheriff's deputy while being treated at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Burgos)

Burgos' family said they never got his account of what happened. The shooting left him unable to speak as he underwent multiple surgeries and a partial leg amputation over the following weeks. He communicated instead through blinks, nods and finger movements, his brother Benjamin said.

Burgos' four surviving siblings are raising funds for his funeral, and rallying around their 72-year-old mother, an immigrant from Guatemala, who has continued to work as a security guard as she grapples with losing her second-eldest child, Benjamin Burgos said.

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Burgos was described by his family as a man who was funny and big-hearted even as he dealt with mental illness and substance abuse.

Benjamin Burgos recalled how his older brother had befriended a handful of men who were living on the streets near the South L.A. duplex that Nicholas shared with his mom and two siblings. The men told the family that Nicholas used to give them food, clothes and blankets.

"These are grown men -- older than me," Benjamin Burgos said. "And they were actually crying with my mom."

Benjamin Burgos said his older brother used to be gang-affiliated and was incarcerated several times when he was younger for crimes related to car theft and receiving stolen property.

But in recent years, Benjamin Burgos said his brother had been working to stay out of trouble for the sake of his young son -- holding down a job as a mover and spending free time with his girlfriend and her daughter.

Robert Ramirez, nephew to Nicholas Burgos, helped out at a car wash to raise funds for his uncle's funeral. (Josie Huang/LAist)

His 20-year-old nephew, Robert Ramirez, said his uncle wanted him to learn from his mistakes.

"He saw me as young and in the 'hood and he wanted better for me," Ramirez said in between washing cars at a Sunday fundraiser for Burgos' funeral in South L.A.

Burgos' family said mental health and drugs continued to be struggles, so he sought both inpatient and outpatient treatment at Harbor-UCLA about three months before the shooting.

"It takes courage ... to actually step up and say 'I need help,'" Benjamin Burgos said of his brother.

Dr. Anish Mahajan, the acting CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said he could not comment on the case, citing patient confidentiality and pending investigations.

The hospital is investigating the incident, Dr. Mahajan noted, as is the Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which called on the Office of the Inspector General to perform an independent investigation.

Family and friends held a car wash in South L.A. on Sunday to raise funds for the funeral of Nicholas Burgos (Josie Huang/LAist)

Dr. Mahajan said the hospital also has convened a task force consisting of health care providers and a sergeant and lieutenant from the Sheriff's Department who work with the hospital.

"As a hospital community, we are devastated that this has happened to a patient," Dr. Mahajan said. "That said, you know, we have to do better and learn from this incident."

Dr. Mahajan said the task force has two goals. First is to review existing policies around "de-escalating patients who have become agitated" and to comb the country for best practices.

The second goal, he said, is to "really think about -- within the bounds of existing law which enables law enforcement to carry weapons in the hospital -- how do we best collaborate with our law enforcement partners when situations arise, where patients become violent?"

The task force began meeting two weeks ago and plans to present a report to county supervisors in December, Mahajan said.

LAist contacted the Sheriff's Department Sunday for comment. A public information officer said the media request had been forwarded to the homicide department.

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