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Police kill mentally ill teenager after her family calls for medical help

Published time: June 05, 2014 19:41
Yanira Serrano-Garcia (Still from KRON 4 video)

Yanira Serrano-Garcia (Still from KRON 4 video)

A California family called 911 for medical help for their mentally ill relative. Instead of a paramedic responding, police arrived and fatally shot the 18-year-old woman after they say she lunged at them with a knife.

The family of Yanira Serrano-Garcia said they called 911 around 9 p.m. Wednesday because she was acting erratically and refusing to take her medication, and they were hoping paramedics would show up and help. Her aunt told KTVU the 18-year-old suffered from depression. The family had previously received just such medical assistance, Raw Story reported.

Authorities said the initial report they received was of a violent female in the streets of a Half Moon housing complex who was thought to be armed. Two deputies responded to the call after the family told dispatchers the woman was mentally ill and armed with a knife that she refused to put down when asked, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

"We have deputies that were responding to the scene with the information that somebody was acting in a psychotic nature armed with a knife and won't put it down even for her own family," San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Rebecca Rosenblatt said to KNTV.

The deputy, Menh Trieu, was faced with a life-threatening situation within 20 seconds of arriving on the scene, according to Rosenblatt. "This was an individual coming at our deputy with a knife intending to harm him," she said. "He should be allowed to protect himself otherwise we might be doing an interview about a deputy not going home to his family and kids."

Rosenblatt said the nine-year department veteran had no choice, according to the San Francisco Gate.

Dyanna Ruiz, a 12-year-old witness, said she saw Trieu running away from a woman who had her arm raised and was chasing him. "I saw the girl running at him with something in her hands," Ruiz said to the Gate. "I didn't know what was happening. I was really scared about what to do."

The preteen, who had been on her way to a friend’s house, said the deputy saw her, stopped and yelled at Serrano-Garcia. When the woman didn’t stop, the officer fired.

The family does not believe lethal force was necessary in handling the woman. "We want answers," her brother, Lorenzo Serrano, said to reporters. "Why didn't they use a Taser? We just want to know what really happened."

“She has special needs and we just want answers,” Lorenzo said, according to KRON 4. “Who are we supposed to call now when we need help when who is supposed to help us is killing our kids?”

"I don't know why they couldn't have done better things instead of getting a bullet through her and trying to shoot her," Saul Miramontes, Serrano-Garcia's cousin told the Mercury News. "She was kind of sick -- you know, at least they could have Tasered her or at least tackled her."

"I just feel kind of sad. I feel mad. I don’t know why an officer would come and do that and try to kill my cousin," Miramontes told KTVU. "My cousin didn’t do nothing. For sure they could have Tasered her. They could have at least done something better."

It was the second time this year a police officer in San Mateo County shot and killed a mentally ill person brandishing a knife. The first officer-involved shooting happened March 18 in Pacifica, when a Daly City SWAT officer killed 34-year-old Errol Chang, the Mercury News reported. District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe released a statement Friday that the shooting of Chang was "justified" and he would not be pressing charges.

Wagstaffe is investigating the Serrano-Garcia shooting jointly with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department. Treiu was sequestered immediately after the event and taken into interviews with investigators, Rosenblatt said. In accordance with department protocol, he has been placed on paid administrative leave.