The family of a mentally ill man released a video this week depicting Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies shooting their son to death. Instead of attempting to calm down the schizophrenic young man, deputies immediately escalated the situation by repeatedly shooting him with a Taser, hitting him with batons, and pepper-spraying his face. Although the sheriff’s department claims that the mentally ill man rammed a police car and pinned a deputy’s legs between his vehicle and a patrol car, witnesses assert that the department lied in order to justify the shooting.
Days after losing his job, 31-year-old John Berry drove to the Lakewood home that he shared with his mother and siblings on July 6. Instead of going inside the house, Berry remained in his car while his older brother went out to talk to him. Chris Berry, a federal police officer who works at a facility with two psychiatric hospitals, realized his younger brother appeared to be off his medication and had not slept in days.
Concerned for his younger sibling, Chris Berry called the sheriff’s department to request a mental health team to help his brother. Chris Berry was informed that a mental health team could not be dispatched until patrol deputies assessed him first.
According to Chris Berry, the deputies who arrived immediately began acting aggressively toward his brother and rapidly escalated the situation. Family members and neighbors helplessly watched as deputies pepper-sprayed Berry in the face, repeatedly shot him with a Taser, and viciously beat him with metal batons. Chris Berry recalled his brother looking stunned and asking, “What did I do wrong?”
A neighbor captured a video on her cell phone of several deputies surrounding Berry’s car and hitting him. Berry remains in the driver’s seat of his car as his neighbor can be heard repeatedly shouting, “Stop beating him!”
As neighbors and family members plead with Berry to get out of his car, two deputies aggressively whip out their metal batons and extend them in a threatening manner. Before the deputies can hit him again, Berry puts his car in reverse. The neighbor recording the incident momentarily looks away as deputies gun down Berry.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A few hours after the incident, Homicide Bureau Lt. Eddie Hernandez justified the shooting by claiming that Berry had injured a deputy’s legs by pinning him between Berry’s vehicle and a patrol car. In a follow-up statement on Monday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida asserted that Berry had driven his vehicle head-on into a responding patrol car before the start of the video. But according to witnesses, Berry never rammed a patrol car with his vehicle and was killed after a deputy fell down beside the cars.
“They said he accelerated and crashed into the police car. That did not happen — I was there for the whole thing,” Chris Berry stated. “But they have to say that because it justifies their aggressive actions.”
Conflicted in his roles as both a law enforcement officer and an older brother, Chris Berry became overwhelmed with emotion when he told reporters, “I called one brother to help another brother and…”
Berry’s family has filed a complaint against Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the seven deputies involved in the shooting. The complaint accuses deputies Michael Bitolas, Anthony Johnson, Grant Oberle, Eric Saavedra, Sergio Santoyo, Robert Solorio, and Sgt. James Jobling of escalating the situation and causing the wrongful death of the mentally ill man diagnosed with schizophrenia.
On Monday, attorneys representing Berry’s family released the video of his death. Berry’s mother, Susan Berry, explained at a press conference that her family filed the complaint in order to improve the callous treatment mentally ill people receive from law enforcement officers.
Marred with a history of abuse and corruption, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has recently been the target of multiple Justice Department investigations. Nearly two dozen deputies have been convicted of numerous crimes including use of excessive force, obstructing federal investigations, and threatening an FBI agent. In May, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and retired Captain William “Tom” Carey were indicted on federal obstruction charges for corruptly influencing and impeding an FBI investigation into abuse and bribery within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Last week, Carey pleaded guilty to lying under oath.