September 28, 2022

Daniel Landeros had no business driving.

His license was suspended. He was ignoring red lights and driving so erratically that his wife, Jennifer Landeros, made him pull over and let her out.

It was the middle of the week after Thanksgiving 2016. Landeros, 41, a union tiler from Elk Grove, Calif., and father of five, took off alone. Jennifer Landeros called the Elk Grove police non-emergency number to say she was worried about her husband.

Within hours, he was dead, having caused a car accident while intoxicated. But not because he—nor other drivers—were fatally injured in the collision. Instead, what happened next is the subject of an ongoing federal civil lawsuit in Sacramento that pits Jennifer Landeros and the couple’s children against five police officers and the city that employed them, with a jury deciding who is responsible for the death of Landeros that night.

After the collision, officers tasered Landero and then pinned him face down on the ground, handcuffed with his knee behind his back, until he stopped breathing. The family says he killed someone who was no longer an imminent threat despite his behavior, and was clearly in the throes of either a mental health episode, substance abuse or both.

The city and police say Landero’s own reckless behavior, along with heart failure, caused his death.

Four years before the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the death of Daniel Landeros did not attract national attention (the Sacramento Bee he’s got was following the case). But the trial is set to conclude this week amid heightened awareness of police use of force after the Floyd case introduced millions to the horrors of “positional asphyxiation” – suffocation in a prone position – and how restraint can cause it. from the policemen.

In a community that generally votes Democratic but where a sense of law and order runs high and the county’s top law enforcement officials are self-proclaimed conservatives, the Landeros case is also a test of where a local jury’s natural sympathies lie. public safety concern.

Jurors convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of manslaughter for several agonizing minutes when he held his knee to Floyd’s neck, rejecting defense efforts to blame Floyd’s death on drug use and heart disease. Like Floyd and Eric Garner before him, Landeros can be heard on video of his arrest shouting, “I can’t breathe.”

But jurors in his case have a very different set of facts to consider. Garner sold loose cigarettes from the curb. Floyd was questioned about an alleged counterfeit $20 bill he passed at a convenience store. Landeros — under the influence of methamphetamine, according to his autopsy — veered into oncoming traffic and struck three passenger vehicles near an intersection where two Elk Grove police officers happened to be conducting a traffic stop, court records show.

The nighttime crash left other drivers injured, and when Landeros got out of his truck, bleeding from a forehead wound, he fled when approached by officers, court records show. Several more officers arrived to help in what police body and dash cam video showed was a chaotic standoff. A local prosecutor would later clear the officers of criminal wrongdoing.

For the Landero family, the only thing that matters is what the police did or didn’t do after they had Daniel subdued. The lawsuit filed by his wife and five children, ages 11-23, alleges he died not because he was agitated, well or in poor health — as the defendants contend — but because long after he had stopped struggling, officers used the their weight to hold the pinned face down, cutting off his oxygen.

Daniel Landeros was the youngest of his parents’ four children — “the baby,” an older brother, Vincent Landeros Jr., told The Daily Beast during a break in the trial last week, to which several other members have traveled of the Landeros family. Sacramento to watch.

“He was a good father, a great family man, a provider for his family,” Vincent said. “I’m always working. I’m just trying to make things work.”

His other brother, Julian Landeros, called Daniel “my first best friend” in an op-ed to The Daily Beast.

He also had a number of personal problems. In preliminary filings, attorneys for both sides argued over how much of his past jurors would be allowed to examine — run-ins with law enforcement, substance abuse and financial strain. Court records show Landero’s license was suspended the night he died because of a previous DUI conviction.

After his wife got out of the truck, Landeros continued — speeding until he veered into traffic and caused a multi-vehicle pileup. The occupants of the vehicles Landeros hit were injured, but not seriously, court records show.

The first two officers to approach a bloodied Landero said that when they asked him if he was involved in the accident, he yelled, “You’re not real!” and ran away.

In grainy body and cam video with night capture taken by a local ABC affiliate, one of the two pursuing officers takes him down with a Taser and a struggle ensues as more officers arrive to help.

Handcuffed, Landeros continues to struggle to his feet and from the bottom of the pile makes his muffled plea for air. Minutes later, with Landeros no longer struggling, and a full-body restraint system known as a WRAP being delivered to the scene, the exchange between the Elk Grove officers suddenly turns raucous.

“He’s got a nosebleed?… He’s blue—he’s turning blue, man.… Roll him over.”

Officers turned the motionless Landeros onto his back and administered CPR, but were unable to revive him. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The Sacramento County Medical Examiner’s report said Landeros died suddenly while restrained and with methamphetamines in his system, and that his agitated state after the car crash, as well as the struggle with police in which he was Tased, also contributed to his death. The medical examiner declined to rule it as asphyxiation or even rule whether his death was a homicide, indicating that the exact combination of contributing causes “could not be determined.”

At trial, the attorney for five officers and the city, Bruce Praet, argued that Landeros’ weight and general health were factors. Praet did not respond to a voicemail and email seeking comment.

Unlike the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death, none of the Elk Grove police officers present when Landeros died in their custody have ever faced criminal charges. A 2017 investigation by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office cleared them, finding “no credible evidence to support an allegation of criminal negligence or excessive force against any of the officers,” the district attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, wrote in a summary in Elk Grove. Police Chief.

“Immediately upon realizing Landeros was unresponsive,” the letter said, “officers checked his condition, called for medical assistance and performed CPR until medical personnel arrived. The officers cannot be said to have acted in an aggravated, culpable, vulgar or reckless manner. They did not act with indifference to human life or indifference to the consequences of their actions. In fact, the officers clearly showed a proper respect for human life.”

The suit alleges that regardless of Landero’s health or condition or mind, holding him face down for several minutes with his knee on his back on the sidewalk while handcuffed was reckless and negligent given the wide widespread police and medical literature that warned of the dangers. suffocation position.

“I’m honestly surprised every time I see one of these cases that we’re even having this conversation,” Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer, told the Daily Beast. “The idea of ​​keeping someone prone, especially after being handcuffed, is so clearly against police practice for over 30 years.”

Stoughton, who testified against Chauvin as an expert witness on police restraint techniques, has not studied the Landeros case, but said positional suffocation “is something so fundamental, it’s touched upon in basic training.”

In a pretrial deposition, an attorney for the Landero family, Stewart Katz, had the police department’s hired attorney, Praet, admit that Elk Grove police at the time it did not have a specific policy for restraining vulnerable people in handcuffs. Attorneys for the Landeros family, Katz and Dale Galipo, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The Daily Beast also asked the city and police department if they have changed their policies, if any of the officers named in the lawsuit are still on the force or have ever been the subject of complaints of excessive force. Multiple calls for comment to the Elk Grove Police Department, the city attorney and a city representative were not returned.

Sacramento County, also home to the state capital, is known for its pro-police politics, a veteran defense attorney there, Mark Reichel, told the Daily Beast. The outgoing three-term county sheriff recently lost his bid to win a seat in Congress as a self-proclaimed “Conservative candidate for the Law and Order Constitution.” The top prosecutor, Schubert, a former Republican, ran for California attorney general in 2022 — but lost — as a right-wing independent with tough words for Democrats focused on reducing the prison population.

Reichel mentioned the death of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man, who was shot in 2018 by two Sacramento city officers in the backyard of his grandmother’s home. Clark was unarmed, but Schubert did not respond to officers. At a news conference, she suggested Clark had killed himself, citing texts investigators found by unlocking his phone. Critics called it character assassination.

Schubert’s office prosecuted a former Elk Grove police officer who was fired from the force for kicking a robbery suspect in the face as he lay on the ground—an attack captured on police video. A jury convicted the police officer of assault in March.

In the Landeros case, the jury was expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday.

Vince’s first day at the trial came late last week, which he spent watching police officers testify and justify their actions. But while he held out hope for a win, if the video of his brother’s arrest — which jurors saw last Tuesday — was replayed, he didn’t think he would stay in the courtroom.

“I can’t watch it,” he said.

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