The family of a mentally ill New Mexico man are planning to file a wrongful death suit against three law enforcement agencies after he was gagged and suffocated by police. On September 6th of last year, Anthony C de Baca was reportedly suffering from a “schizophrenic episode” after his doctor had changed his medication earlier that week. C de Baca crashed his wife's car, and then ran to a nearby Wal-Mart where he began causing a disturbance.
Cops from the Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, and Santa Ana Police Departments all arrived on the scene. Officers cuffed C de Baca in the store, where he allegedly bit one of the officers in the leg. The mentally ill man was brought out into the parking lot, where his legs were shackled and a spit sock was placed over his head, to prevent him from biting again. Bodycam videos show that C de Baca was questioned while being pressed to the ground by several cops.
C de Baca repeatedly cried out “I can't breathe,” but officers ignored him and continued to hold him down while making jokes and discussing his charges. Within minutes, C de Baca was dead. Minutes after that, bodycam video shows two officers fist-bumping each otgher, while another says “I don't care about that,” in apparent reference to his death. “He’s telling him essentially that Mr. C de Baca has passed, and he’s like ‘I don’t care, I’m asking how you’re doing,’” said Ahmad Assed, attorney for C de Baca's family. “It’s really telling if you look at that particular part of the video.”
An investigation by the Rio Rancho Police Department found no criminal intent on the part of any of the police involved in the incident. The medical examiner ruled C de Baca's death a homicide due to “excited delirium (cocaine intoxication) complicated by means of physical restraint,” and would not rule out suffocation as a possible cause of death. An independent report by the New Mexico Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that an “improperly placed” spit sock could potentially suffocate someone to death.
“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.”