East Edition

Whittier police sued in death of mentally ill man

WHITTIER — The family of a mentally ill man who died after an encounter with Whittier police has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department, alleging officers “killed” him after being called to the scene for assistance, attorneys announced Dec. 12.

Jonathan Salcido, 27, died at a Whittier hospital on May 4, shortly after the encounter with police that ended with officers wrestling him to the sidewalk. The attending emergency room physician noted “asphyxia” as the cause or contributing cause of death, along with head trauma and “traumatic” arrest, according to the suit, which was filed Dec. 7 in Los Angeles federal court.

Requests for comment left with the Whittier Police Department’s office of the chief and the city manager’s office were not immediately returned.

Jasmin Salcido said that she witnessed officers “piled on top” of her handcuffed son, with one officer “lying spread eagle on top of Jonathan’s back.” After she heard her son scream and turned to intervene, she was warned to “let the police do their job,” according to court papers.

The suit names the city of Whittier, Police Chief Jeff Piper, and three of the officers whose failure to help Jonathan allegedly led to his death. The complaint for damages does not specify a monetary amount, but in August, attorneys filed a claim with the city for $15 million.

“The questions we have asked the Whittier Police Department are simple, and they have responded with silence,” said Gary Salcido, Jonathan’s father. “Why did Jonathan die? He was a vulnerable, sick, defenseless young man. My wife asked the police for help. Instead, they killed our son.”

The mother said Whittier police were aware of her son’s condition. The day of his death, her son was scheduled to see his psychiatrist to treat the mental illness that he had lived with since age 18, she said.

His behavior became erratic, and she called police for assistance, as she had many times before, his mother said.

Instead of helping transport him to the doctor’s office, numerous responding officers wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him, piled on top of him and “smothered him to death before his mother’s eyes,” said Dan Stormer, a Los Angeles civil rights attorney who is representing the family.

“Justice demands that the officers who took Jonathan’s life and the department that failed his family be prosecuted,” Stormer said. “Justice also demands reform before the Whittier police take another life.”