This is an outrage!
Empire College stunned by death
Mentally distressed student, 44, dies after being Tasered, beaten by Woodland police
By Martin Espinoza
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 4:51 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 9:27 a.m.
Empire College faculty and students are mourning the loss of a 44-year-old law student who died in a violent confrontation with Woodland police last week.
Ricardo Manuel Abrahams, a former Sonoma County resident, lived in the Woodland area but had been attending night classes at Empire College in Santa Rosa for the past two years.
"The Empire College community is very saddened by the death of Ricardo Abrahams," said Patrick Broderick, dean of the law school.
Abrahams' father, Cecil Abra-hams, 76, of Woodland, said his son was in severe mental distress when police Tasered him and repeatedly struck him with batons. The police were responding to a 911 call from the voluntary residential facility just after he had walked out at about 9:10 a.m. Wednesday.
Abrahams said his son had been under a great deal of stress.
"He was getting ready to start his third year at Empire," he said. "He worked at Enterprise Car Rental every day in Vacaville and was going to night school. I think all of that took a toll and a strain, all the time running back and forth and the classes. I told him maybe he might want to take a break. Unfortunately what has happened has happened."
Abrahams said that Tuesday evening he and his wife took their son to Safe Harbor Crisis House, a short-term residential treatment center in Woodland.
He said he was told that staff dialed 911 the next morning because they feared for his son's safety.
In a statement to local media, police said that Abrahams had become confrontational and aggressive, and was ignoring commands. They were trying to determine whether he had posed a danger to himself or others.
Cecil Abrahams, a retired businessman, questioned the need to involve the police. He said he wished the family had been phoned instead.
"Is that the way you treat somebody who is mentally disturbed?" he said. "Is that the way police treat somebody who is disturbed? Using a Taser and a baton and sitting on him. Somebody is at fault."
The Yolo County coroner said that a preliminary autopsy revealed "injuries that were consistent with restraint while resisting arrest."
Lt. Charlie Wilts, spokesman for the Woodland Police Department, could not be reached for comment Friday or Saturday.
Michele Kellogg, executive director of Safe Harbor Crisis House, said that because of client confidentiality, she could not talk about Abrahams or the decision to phone the police and not the family. "We're not allowed to talk about clients even after they're deceased," Kellogg said. "We follow specific training protocols, and when we're concerned about someone's safety, we follow those protocols so we can keep the person safe."
Kellogg said Abrahams' death was "tragic" and "my heart goes out to the family."
Cecil Abrahams said the family has received a sympathy card from Empire College signed by a number of staff and students. "He was very well liked," he said. "It's one thing to die from a physical disability or a medical problem. But to die the way he died, it's very, very tragic. It's very tragic because in my mind, you don't treat a mental health patient that way."
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Grieving family expresses outrage after Taser use
By Hudson Sangree - email@example.com
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, May 30, 2008
Story appeared in METRO section, Page B1
The grieving parents of Ricardo Manuel Abrahams – who died Wednesday after being repeatedly shot with Tasers and clubbed by Woodland police – expressed outrage Thursday.
Cecil and Rosemary Abrahams of Davis said they didn't understand why officers used such force.
Their 44-year-old son, Rick, was a law student and had been struggling with mental disturbances brought on by stress, they said.
When police encountered Abrahams, he was walking down the street, armed only with a pencil, his parents said.
"What was his crime?" asked his 73-year-old mother, a former controller for the city of Woodland.
She said her youngest son was depressed and disoriented and probably didn't understand the officers' commands.
Cecil Abrahams, 76, a retired businessman, said his son was large but was a "tame, gentle person."
His voice shaking, he accused the officers "with their Taser guns and billy clubs and badges" of being the aggressors.
Lt. Charlie Wilts said he understood the family's grief.
Officers also are dismayed, he said, but those who fired four Tasers and struck Abrahams with batons did what they thought was necessary.
"The attempt is to get someone to comply with what you're asking them to do," Wilts said. "If the person won't do it voluntarily, the other choice is to use some kind of force."
Tasers have proven safe and effective, he said. Striking suspects with batons is a "pain-compliance technique" that encourages them to obey, he said.
Abrahams' parents, however, said that when their son was having a breakdown, he could not even remember his name, let alone comprehend orders.
The couple said their son had experienced bouts of severe depression and anxiety since his divorce in 2000.
A once-successful pharmaceutical salesman and graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Rick Abrahams was attending law school at night in Santa Rosa, they said.
Tuesday, on the advice of his psychiatrist, Abrahams checked himself into Safe Harbor Crisis House, a short-term residential care facility on Kentucky Avenue in Woodland.
His parents took him there Tuesday night. They never saw their son again.
He walked out of the voluntary facility the next morning.
The staff called police – not his parents – who intercepted him near West Street and Kentucky Avenue.
A police spokesman said the officers were trying to determine whether Abrahams posed a danger to himself or others.
In a written statement, the department said Abrahams became aggressive and confrontational and ignored their commands.
They shot him with their Taser guns, without apparent effect, then struck him on the arms and legs with batons, it said.
More officers arrived and shot him two more times with Tasers.
He fell to the ground and was handcuffed. Officers noticed he was not breathing, so they began CPR and called for help.
Abrahams was pronounced dead at 10:15 a.m. in Woodland Memorial Hospital.
An autopsy by the Yolo County coroner revealed superficial injuries "consistent with restraint while resisting arrest," a Sheriff's Department statement said.
Abrahams' parents said the coroner told them their son had bruises on his back, legs, arm and head, but would not let them view his body.
The cause of death is under investigation, pending a toxicology report.
His parents said their son had sleep apnea and may have stopped breathing when he was restrained.
Michael Summers – a former police officer who works with the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services – said many officers do not understand that a mentally ill person facing a crisis can find it difficult to process instructions.
"You want to calm the scene down," he said. "You have to be willing to spend more time talking to someone."
Mona Cadena of Amnesty International said Tasers are marketed as nonlethal alternatives to firearms, but 300 people have died after being shot by Tasers since 2001.
In about a dozen cases, coroners cited the Taser as a primary or contributing cause of death, according to a 2006 Amnesty International report.