Officers Kill Disabled Man

By Paul McKibben and Susie Steckner The Arizona Republic

Mesa police shot and killed a man living in a group home for mentally and physically disabled residents Monday after he threatened officers and the house’s occupants with a knife, police said.
Detective Jose Martinez said he does not know the medical history of Raymundo T. Espinoza, 52.

Police said they killed Espinoza after he refused to comply with their orders to put down a knife during a confrontation at a home in the 2600 block of West Monte Avenue in the Dobson Ranch subdivision.

The home’s caregiver called 911 at 7:15 a.m. and reported Espinoza was threatening him and the home’s two other residents, Martinez said. The caregiver fled to safety as officers arrived.

The officers shot Espinoza with non-lethal beanbag rounds after they said he approached them with the knife at the front door. The man ran into the kitchen, and officers followed. Martinez said he ignored repeated orders to put down the knife.

Espinoza advanced toward the officers and was threatening them with a butcher knife when all four officers fired their semiautomatic pistols, Martinez said. Ballistics tests will determine how many times each officer fired and how many shots struck Espinoza. One neighbor reported hearing six shots.

Mesa police followed routine procedure by placing the four officers on paid administrative leave after the shooting. They are Sgt. Glenn Shough and Officers Dan Brown, John Gomez and Jason Troth.

Shough is a 14-year veteran and Brown is a 21-year veteran. Gomez has four years on the force, and Troth has been a Mesa officer for one year.

Maricopa County Superior Court records show Espinoza had four mental health hearings this year, the last in May, and two others last year. Those records are sealed for confidentiality reasons.

Community Psychological and Educational Services, which operates the group home, is a for-profit firm based in Tucson that provides care for people with physical and mental disabilities. It has been in business for 18 years and has 63 homes licensed by state health officials. Company officials did not return calls Monday.

The home itself is licensed by the state Department of Health Services; the programs are licensed by the state Department of Economic Security.

DES has contracted with the firm to provide services for disabled people for more than 10 years, and “usually all the CPES (homes) are in the above average to real good range. . . . They usually do very, very good on their monitoring. This (Mesa) home is no different,” said Eileen Colleran, administrative coordinator for DES’ division of developmental disabilities.

According to DES records, 11 violations have been discovered at the Mesa home since inspections began in November 1999. Investigators found various problems: a lack of medication monitoring, improper storage of medications, incomplete medical records and missing documentation about staff training.

DHS found two minor violations with the home last year.

In the past two months, Mesa police and fire departments have made at least four calls to the house for medical emergencies and to look for residents who have wandered away.

Neighbors said the residents were generally quiet.

“I just wouldn’t think there would have been a shooting here. This is the last place, especially with that kind of home,” said resident Joe Tripoli, 20.

Some mental health advocates have been pushing to get special training for police officers responding to calls about people with impairments.

“This is a very big issue in the mental health advocacy business,” said Jack Harvey, board president of the Mental Health Advocates Coalition of Arizona. “There’s too many people being killed. We’re not trying to put down the police officers, but there has to be a better way. We want to save some lives and make it safer for the police officer too.”

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