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Deadly 911 Calls Pt. 2: Police Kill Bipolar Puerto Rican Artist After Concerned Wife Calls for Help

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On May 26, Elsa Cruz called 911 because she was worried her husband, Samuel Cruz, had stopped taking his medication for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Police from New Rochelle, New York, soon arrived. By the time they had left, Cruz had been shot dead. Police claimed he lunged at officers with a knife. Cruz was a 48-year-old artist from Puerto Rico. The Cruz family is filing a lawsuit against the New Rochelle Police Department today. We speak to Elsa and her attorneys, Mayo Bartlett and Randolph McLaughlin, both longtime civil rights attorneys.

Click here to watch part 1 of this segment about the case of Mohamed Bah, who was killed by New York City police after his mother called 911 for medical help.

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StoryJul 19, 2024“Justice for My Brother”: Sister of Samuel Sharpe Speaks Out After Police Killing During RNC
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “American Skin (41 Shots)” by Bruce Springsteen, that song for Amadou Diallo, who was a Guinean immigrant who came to this country and was killed on February 4th, 1999, in a hail of 41 police bullets. His mother Kadiatou has attended some of the rallies on behalf of Mohamed Hah’s family, Mohamed Bah who was killed on September 25th, 2012, in his home, when his mother, Hawa Bah, called the police to ask for an ambulance. She felt that her son was sick.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are also joined, in addition to Hawa Bah and her attorney Randolph McLaughlin, by Elsa Cruz, wife of Samuel Cruz, as well as Mayo Bartlett, the other attorney in both of these cases.

Elsa Cruz, if you can describe what happened to your husband, what day was it?

ELSA CRUZ: It was May 26, 2012.


ELSA CRUZ: Oh, ’13, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And where were you?

ELSA CRUZ: I’m the person who called the police that time, and I’m there, that was happened. And I came from the church. And I was so concerned to my husband, that even a call, he never responded to me and to friends, the sister. And it was the time that—

AMY GOODMAN: This is in New Rochelle.

ELSA CRUZ: Yes, ma’am. And the sister went there at around 10:30 in the church, looking for my husband. He’s in the church. And—

AMY GOODMAN: It’s Sunday.

ELSA CRUZ: That was Sunday. And he met our pastor, and he asking if his brother is there, but the pastor, “Yeah, he’s here, but last—last week.” But the pastor listened to her and said, “What happened to Samuel?” She said, “I’m looking for my brother, because when I visit him in the—in the apartment, he’s not there. And somebody telling me that, you know, is something happened to him? While he’s talking, it’s different, you know. He’s so—talk very fast. He give his money to, you know, those people who are homeless. They’re in the street, to give money, $100. When he eat in the restaurant, he give 100 tips, you know?” And the sister was worried. “Is there something wrong with my brother?” And then the pastor said, “OK, if he can be here in the church maybe this morning, I’m going to—I’m going to tell you.” She said, “Pastor, please call me.” Exactly that Sunday, I’m there. And—but before that there was happening, I’m arrive from my country. I was—I was there for vacation for one month.

AMY GOODMAN: You had been away.

ELSA CRUZ: Yes, I’m away. And we communicate—communicating through webcam, and I observed that there is something different, the way he talk, the way expression, you know. He said—

AMY GOODMAN: He was taking medication?

ELSA CRUZ: At the time, I think that that was the time that there is something wrong for that, and I don’t understand. But I reminded him in the webcam, said, “Say hi.” And then he said, “Hi.” But he is different, really, the way he talked, the way—the gesture that he has. I said, “Remember, don’t miss your pills, you know?” And, “Oh, no, don’t worry. I’m OK. I’m OK.” And, you know—and there’s something that bothered me, so I’m in a hurry to go back to—go back home. So, that Sunday, the pastor said, “Elsa, the sister of your husband is coming here.” But I said—but that was happened. I wanted to explain. But I arrived from the airport. He took me the airport, and he’s very pale—

AMY GOODMAN: He met you at the airport.

ELSA CRUZ: Yeah, yeah, the airport. He took me and brought me in our apartment. That day of my arriving, you know, we talk. I share what had happened to my vacation. And he said, “How much money did you spend there?” I said, “$2,000,” you know, for almost 12 years. Imagine that, you know, $2,000 is not enough. And I saw his face. It seems that his eyes was big. And he said, “Oh, OK, go out of my apartment. Find your hotel.” “What? I miss you. You know, I joke with you. I miss you, you know. I’m in a hurry to go back here, because, you know, I promised you to go back as soon as possible.” “No, no, no. Go.” And he’s shaking. And it seems that he’s so angry with me, and said, “OK, I’m going to call you the police, if you will not go out to our apartment.” I said, “Samuel, why? There’s something wrong to you.” He said, “Go, go, go, go.” What I did, I took my bag and go out. And I was shaking also, and I was shocked, because this is different. He didn’t do that to me, you know? And I go out, and I’m so tired because there are two day’s trip away from my country. And I was, “Oh, my god! Maybe he’s missed his pills,” and whatever, because—

AMY GOODMAN: These were pills for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

ELSA CRUZ: Yes, yeah. And then I went to the house of my friend, and I said—I cried and said, “What happened to Samuel?” But, you know, there’s something wrong with him. And then, two days, I never call him, because that—I said I let him calm down maybe, you know. But I’m worried. I call three, and he never—he never answered a call. And that Sunday, exactly, the pastor telling me that this is—you know, the sister also observed the same observation. I said, “Pastor, please give me a favor. I’m going to go to the—to our apartment. Can you go with me? And I want to see if he’s in the apartment.” And the pastor go with me, and what had happened, we talk there and said—the pastor talk: “Samuel, how are you? I’m here, Pastor Daniel. I’m here, and your wife Elsa is here. How are you?” He answered, “I’m naked.” And the pastor said, “OK, if you’re naked, you can—you can put on your clothes.” And I also talking: “Samuel, I’m here. Could you please open the door?” He never answered me. And I have—

AMY GOODMAN: Was it at that—was it at that point that you called the police?

ELSA CRUZ: Not yet. And then, because they never responded us, the pastor said, “Elsa, I have my appointment.” We waited so very long. I think it’s 25 hours, and he never responded. And the pastor said, “I’m going to go.” I said, “Leave me here. You can go, Pastor,” because I—you know, I negotiate, negotiated. And then, I cried there. We have three stairs in our apartment. I cried. I cried, “Please, open the door. I’m going to cook your favorite food, you know? I miss you, because I came from my vacation.” And then, he never answer. Never. It’s silent. I was so scared.

So, what I did, I took my phone and go to another side of the building, inside that place, and I called 911. And there’s a woman answering me: “What is your problem?” I said, “Ma’am, I’m here in our apartment. There’s something wrong with my husband. He needs help. Can you please send us somebody to help me to assisting him to go to the hospital?” She said, “Your husband is harming anybody?” And, “No, ma’am, no. He’s a very nice person. He never harm anybody. Could you please send us somebody, or whatever?” And then, “OK.”

I think 15 minutes, because I am watching somebody, because there’s a small window beside our apartment, when you go down in. I saw a man with uniform, a policeman. He’s waving his hand. And I go down there. It seems he’s one block away from our apartment downstair. We’re living on the second floor.

AMY GOODMAN: On the second floor.

ELSA CRUZ: And we go down. I put paper in the door, because, you know, I have no key. I cannot get in again. So I go there, and the policeman, “Come here.” We went to the roadside. This is Church Street. There is four policemen waiting there. And these policemen are like they’re going to the war. They have a shield, all of their—

AMY GOODMAN: They’re wearing full shields.

ELSA CRUZ: Yes. And then they have guns. And it seems that they—they go to the war. And I’m so worried. But I ignore them. The first man that I focus my attention, he answer—he asking me, “What is the telephone number of your husband?” I give—I give the telephone number of in our apartment. And then he said, “What is the race of your husband?” I said, “He is a Puerto Rican. He is a good-looking man. He’s a good-looking man.” He said—and the other policeman answered me, “How about me?” It seems that I’m comfortable with them, because, you know, my fear is gone and everything. So, this man is good, you know? I’m confident with them, because I think they can help me, when I called for help.

And then, there’s another person, said, “OK, you’re going to stay here. Don’t go to your apartment. You stay here.” I don’t know—it’s far. You can see what—their movements outside, but inside you cannot see anything there. And I’m staying there and concerned. I’m only praying, saying, “Oh, Lord, please protect my husband.” I don’t know what’s going on to this. There is another policeman downstairs, the first floor, and the other policeman is on the second floor. I don’t know what’s going on. I saw one policeman roaming in—outside our apartment. He’s looking for the door, the fire escape or whatever there. And the policeman there, the first floor, he’s waving his hand to me and said, “Come here.” But before that, I transferred to another—another roadside. And I thank God, because he wants me to get inside our apartment. I know what is going about there upstairs. It’s very clear, you know, what’s going on. They’re talking, whatever. We have a neighbor, a black woman, there inside the first floor and the super, the person who took charge of the apartments. And they’re talking and talking and talking. So, in short, the person in charge, the super, give them the tool to open the door of our apartment.

AMY GOODMAN: Not a key, but tools.

ELSA CRUZ: No. And I asked the super, “Do you have a key for our apartment?” And he said, “No, your husband always changing”—

AMY GOODMAN: The locks.

ELSA CRUZ: —”his key and the locks and whatever.” OK, so I am—I am confident that they can open it, but I don’t know what is in their mind, these policemen. My husband, I hear that, “Oh, they took my $10.” The neighbor said, “OK, I can give you $10.” The purpose of that is to negotiate or to talk, to calm down my husband. And they said, “No, nobody could come here.” And me, also, I talked to that man who is guarding the stairs so that we cannot go there. I said, “Can I go to my husband? Can I talk to him?” “No, nobody can talk to him.” The super hand in the tools to the man there, one of the policemen.

AMY GOODMAN: We have just a minute to go before break. They handed the tools—

ELSA CRUZ: To the policeman there upstairs.

AMY GOODMAN: And they broke open the door?

ELSA CRUZ: Well, this is the happening. I heard very clear when they open the door, before the first broke—you can hear the tool—it’s like—

AMY GOODMAN: Break, break open the door.

ELSA CRUZ: The voice of my husband said, “Don’t broke my door. This is against my will. I’m going to sue you this.” A very calm voice, never shouting, never fighting or—you know, it’s a very calm voice. He said—but they are still continue, broke—there are three: broke, broke, broke, bang! I don’t heard any commotion, even the step on the floor, that they’re fighting or they said they put the machine there to—

AMY GOODMAN: Taser him.

ELSA CRUZ: —taser, or whatever. It’s very fast. And I shouted, “Do you harm my husband? Oh, my god! Do you harm my husband there?” I didn’t—even their voices, those policemen, I didn’t heard a voice. It seems everybody is silent. Even my husband is screaming or whatever, but in my mind, I said, maybe they shot with something, you know, in the arms, that they sleep or whatever. Only one shot. And then I saw the sister outside and run outside, and I cry. I said, “Oh, Samuel.” I found Samuel, because he’s here in the apartment. She said, “Oh, what happened? I heard a shot, yeah.” But our expectation that they shot only with a—I don’t know how—

AMY GOODMAN: With a taser—

MAYO BARTLETT: Tranquilizer.

AMY GOODMAN: —or tranquilizer.

ELSA CRUZ: With a taser or tranquilizer, to sleep. But, you know, being a wife, you can feel really the emotion, whatever. And then I waited and waited. Nobody talking there. It seems that nobody there. And then I shouted again, “Please bring my husband now in the hospital! Bring him now! Bring him now! Please! Please!” There are two person, because I know they are policemen—the woman wearing a uniform, the same uniform that those policemen that are wearing, and another man. They are walking like there’s nothing happened. It’s very—you know, it’s like a motion. If you’re in a hurry and a man dying, you’re going to run, because time is precious. They’re just walking in the street, nothing happen, with a small tool. I don’t know what kind of tool is that.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayo Bartlett, what was your—in your investigation in the timing of all of this—so, Samuel Cruz is shot. Was he killed on the spot?

MAYO BARTLETT: Well, we really don’t know, because we don’t have certainty. But we can tell you that, basically, immediately upon them getting there and trying to get into their house, things happened almost instantaneously. And the thing that’s striking in these cases is the fact that they are not—police are not called in response to a crime. There’s no rush. There’s no need to take such immediate action. And in this case in particular, Westchester County has a mobile crisis team that works, in particular, with the city of New Rochelle, so they had access to mental health professionals who they could have had at that location to speak to Mr. Cruz. Also, Mrs. Cruz could have spoken to her husband.

And I think that a lot of things—one thing that’s common in both cases is that quite often people don’t know why the police are there. They haven’t committed any crime. They are not the subject of a criminal investigation. And all they know is that the police are there breaking their door down. And they know that they didn’t call those officers.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and then when we come back, we’re going to go down to Memphis to hear how—what the Memphis Model is, how the police there deal with the mentally ill. We’re talking with Elsa Cruz. She called police for her husband, Samuel Cruz. She was concerned he was not taking his medication, wanted him taken care of. In the end, as you heard this story, he was shot dead. Her attorney, Mayo Bartlett and Randolph McLaughlin. Also with this, Hawa Bah, who called police on behalf of her son, Mohamed Bah, who was a student here in New York. She was concerned when she came to visit him from Guinea that he was looking disheveled, that he wasn’t making sense. She called for an ambulance. The police came. He, too, was killed. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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Memphis Model: Police Pioneer Use of Crisis Intervention Teams to Deal with Mentally Sick

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