Three police departments are being named in a wrongful death lawsuit, filed by the family of a man who was killed by police while having a psychotic episode.
Ben Anthony C de Baca was killed in September of 2015 while in the custody of New Mexico’s Rio Rancho Police Department, the Bernalillo Police Department, and the Santa Ana Police Department. C de Baca had a history of mental illness, and recently had his medication changed when he had a panic attack brought on by schizophrenia at a McDonalds and a Walmart.
According to the Daily Beast, C de Baca was in the McDonalds drive-thru when he muttered something about a body in the trunk of his car to his wife. In an attempt to humor him, C de Baca’s wife said she would make sure to check the trunk, prompting C de Baca to step on the accelerator of his vehicle and smash into the rear bumper of a nearby car. Officers from the Rio Rancho Police Department followed C de Baca to a nearby Walmart, where the Santa Ana and Bernalillo Police Departments would later respond to a call from store employees.
While apprehending C de Baca, police are heard on video referring to the man in profanity-laced language, after C de Baca allegedly bit one of the arresting officers.
“This cunt fuck bit the fuck out of me, dude. I had to punch his ass off of me,” an officer is heard saying to one of his colleagues.
At that point, officers placed a “spit sock,” or a clear mesh hood, over C de Baca’s head to prevent him from biting other officers. They then placed leg shackles on him, placing him on his stomach in the parking lot in front of the store. While C de Baca initially cooperated with officers’ requests for his name, he then began crying out that he couldn’t breathe. Officers ignored him and continued to press him for his personal information.
BEN ANTHONY C DE BACA: “I can’t breathe.”
OFFICER: “Anthony, what’s your date of birth?”
C DE BACA: “I can’t breathe.”
OFFICER: “What’s your date of birth?”
C DE BACA: “I’m dying.”
In another video taken after the aforementioned exchange, officers are seen tugging on Anthony’s arm and checking his pulse, saying his name in an attempt to get a response. Attorney Ahmad Assed, who is representing C de Baca’s family in the lawsuit, told the Daily Beast the exchange between two of the officers shows an absolute lack of concern for the man’s life they just ended.
OFFICER: You alright?
PARTNER: Yeah, I’m good dude. Fuckin’ hate when people put us in a position like this.
OFFICER: No, I’m asking are you okay. I don’t care about that. Are you okay?
Then, while watching paramedics attempt to revive C de Baca, two officers are seen fist-bumping on another officer’s body camera.
“I’m really more concerned about why they hogtied him, dragged him out, placed him face down with three guys kneeing him in the back,” Assed said, telling the Beast that the officers’ lack of empathy is secondary to how C de Baca was treated. “A guy is screaming for his life saying he can’t breathe and that he’s hurting, and then they claimed to put a spit sock on him for what reason I have no idea, because it doesn’t prevent anything.”
The New Mexico Medical Examiner’s Office ruled C de Baca’s death as “excited delirium” (cocaine intoxication) exacerbated by physical restraint, but did not rule out death by suffocation, confirming that a spit sock can cause suffocation if used the wrong way. Assed said the way officers used the spit sock showed a lack of proper training.
“They used it in a different fashion than in the training I hope they received,” Assed said. “I doubt they received any training. If there was training, it certainly wasn’t consistent with how they used it.”
Indeed, a manual on the spit sock from the Bernalillo Police Department, which put the spit sock on C de Baca’s head, outlined the only stated purpose of the device was to stop a detainee from spitting. It also warned against putting handcuffed detainees on their stomach.
“When Deputies are faced with prisoners who spit, have spat, or indicate they are likely to spit, the following procedures will be followed… No other methods will be utilized to control or prevent this action. The Transportation Hood will only be used to deter spitting and will NOT be used for any other purpose… Deputies will seek immediate medical attention for the prisoner if signs or symptoms of cocaine psychosis, excited delirium or positional asphyxia are observed.”
An internal investigation conducted by law enforcement ruled the officers acted properly in detaining C de Baca, but a separate investigation conducted by the Sandoval County District Attorney’s Office may yield charges.
Zach Cartwright is an activist and author from Richmond, Virginia. He enjoys writing about politics, government, and the media. Send him an email at [email protected], and follow his work on the Public Banking Institute blog.