Family sues after mentally distressed man shot

Investigative reporter Jim Hoffer has the story
October 22, 2013 3:29:02 PM PDT
This is the second time in the last two years that a 911 call to police in Westchester County ended with a mentally distressed man being shot dead inside his home by an officer.

Now, a family is calling on the federal court to intervene to prevent it from happening again.

It's been five months since New Rochelle Police responded to a 911 call to help a mentally distressed Samuel Cruz.

Many questions remain, including why police escalated a tense situation by forcing open his door to find a frightened Cruz with a knife.

That's when a highly-decorated officer opened fire killing Cruz in his home.

"I am here to tell you that I'm going to fight this fight on behalf of my husband," said Elsa Cruz, widow.

Monday, in front of the Federal Court House in White Plains, Cruz's wife, daughter and attorneys announced a $21 million lawsuit against New Rochelle Police for having "failed to train or supervise its officers in properly responding to incidents involving emotionally disturbed persons."

"When you call police for medical attention you shouldn't be killed by same people there to give you assistance," said Mayor Bartlett, the Cruz family's attorney.

The lawsuit also calls for a court order requiring New Rochelle to adopt the Crisis Intervention Team Model.

Developed in Memphis, it's recognized as the gold standard in police response to mental health crisis.

"What they found when they've used this method is deaths from these incidents dropped dramatically," said Randolph McLaughlin, of Newman Ferrara LLP.

But in Westchester County, cutbacks eliminated a 24-7 Crisis Intervention Unit, leaving a mental health professional available for calls Monday through Friday. It was Sunday when Mrs. Cruz called 911 to help her husband.

"I regret that I called the wrong person, wrong people to help my husband, instead of helping they killed him," Elsa Cruz said.

Eyewitness News reached out for a response from New Rochelle Police.

A spokesman said they cannot comment on the Cruz case but added that the department does have a Critical Incident Unit trained to respond to calls involving emotionally disturbed people.


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