Members of Parliament shot an autistic man, then the justice system terrorized him. There is a better way.

Lawyer Austin Dove speaks at a press conference in April on the shooting of Isaias Cervantes by sheriff’s deputies at his Cudahy home on March 31. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Isaias Cervantes had become restless and started pushing his mother. Autistic and deaf, suffering from anxiety and possibly intellectual disability, the 25-year-old was generally calm but could become difficult at times. His sister called 911 and asked for someone to come to Cudahy’s house and take his brother to the hospital.

It was March 31, 2021. When two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrived, Cervantes’ mother and sister came out to talk to them. They and Cervantes’ therapist, who was home at the time, tried to assure MPs that the young man, sitting calmly and quietly in the living room, was not a threat.

When Cervantes refused to go out, the deputies entered the house. One of them told Cervantes that they were there to help him and that he was not under arrest – indeed, no one at any point had accused him of committing a crime. crime – but that, for unspecified reasons, they had no choice but to handcuff him. .

Then they grabbed him. Cervantes tried to avoid the take, and in an audio recording of the incident (no video is available as the body cameras of both MPs have fallen), a MP is heard saying: “He’s going to get my armed”. The other deputy then shot Cervantes.

The bullet damaged his spine and one of his lungs. He has undergone several surgeries and spent months in physical rehabilitation. In addition to his previous disabilities, Cervantes is now paralyzed.

Cervantes’ story is gruesome but unfortunately not unique. Families who do their best to care for loved ones with special needs or who process information differently from most people sometimes have to seek emergency help, and they call 911. Sometimes instead. with the help and expertise they expected, they get agents to escalate rather than calm the situation down. They receive excessive and unnecessary force, injuries and death.

Examples are not hard to find. Eric Briceno’s mother called 911 when her son had a mental health crisis in 2020. LA County Sheriff’s Deputies answered their Maywood home – and beat and beat the 39-year-old man in dead.

Last year David Ordaz Jr. had a mental health crisis and the family called for help. Sheriff’s deputies responded and shot the 34-year-old man.

The Cervantes case may be unusual in that the young man survived the encounter. But it opened the door to further trauma. Sheriff’s deputies prevented the family from seeing Cervantes at the hospital and came to the house several times as a result, apparently to investigate the incident. But the family saw it as intimidation, especially after they sued the department for the shooting.

And then, almost seven months later, the sheriff’s department asked the district attorney to lay criminal charges – against Cervantes: assault with a lethal weapon on a law enforcement officer (allegedly one deputy) and two counts of resisting arrest (although there was no arrest) by force.

After being briefed on the details of the incident by disability advocates, the district attorney’s office, to his credit (although quite late in the process), informed Cervantes’ attorney last week that he would not pursue the charges and that Cervantes did not need to appear for the hearing given “all of the circumstances,” according to a spokesperson for Dist. Atty. George Gascon. Charges are brought against one of the deputies involved (Jonathan Miramontes) for falsifying records in another case.

The Cervantes case, and others like it, show why we need an “alternative crisis response” – a set of protocols and programs that send behavioral health experts and clinicians to manage health crises. mental rather than armed law enforcement officers. A nationwide call for such services has intensified amid protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and state and local governments have explored various approaches. As of July, a nationwide mental health crisis number – 988 – is said to provide an alternative to 911 and provide more appropriate answers. County Supervisor Janice Hahn launched the effort to create a Los Angeles County Integrated Service Response System.

But if they are to meet the deadline, state and local agencies must move faster. In California, AB 988 – known as the Miles Hall Act, in memory of another man killed by police responding to a mental health call – has yet to be passed.

Many law enforcement agencies say they already have some form of alternative response protocols. The Sheriff’s Department, for example, has had mental assessment teams to send health clinicians as well as sheriff’s assistants since 1993.

But no MET has responded to the Cervantes family’s call. Alternative programs are of little value if not used.

With the looming 988 deadline, 2022 is likely to be a pivotal year for an alternative crisis response, in Los Angeles, California, and across the country. We have seen, in the examples of Isaias Cervantes and others, how bad things can go. Now is the time to make sure they start to be okay.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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