Lawyer: Vincent Valenzuela Tasered in Chest by Anaheim PD, Stopping His Heart
Garo Mardirossian speaks at an LA press conference with Valenzuela's family
Photo by Gabriel San Roman/ OC Weekly
UPDATE, JULY 11, 6:28 P.M.: Anaheim police allowed media to hear the 911 call and watch the Coin Laundry and 7-Eleven surveillance video just hours after an attorney for Vincent Valenzuela's family said officers tased him in the chest on July 2 causing his heart to stop beating. "There's a lot of misinformation circulation about this incident," Anaheim police chief Raul Quezada told members of the press. "I want to provide you with as many facts as I can without interfering with any investigation." That didn't include any footage of officers' body-worn cameras, because the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office is still looking them over.
With authorization from the OCDA, Quezada played the 911 tape where a woman called police about a man who allegedly followed her mom home, pacing back and forth in front of their house, but moving away from it by the conversation's end. Next came the initial contact police had with Valenzuela at a nearby laundromat. Quezada cued the tape where Valenzuela is seen at a washing machine. The footage had no audio, but shows two officers roughly taking him down, with an arm of one cop wrapped near or around Valenzuela's neck.
"During an initial conversation, an officer witnessed Mr. Valenzuela discard a glass narcotic pipe in the area of the washing machines," Quezada said. "Mr. Valenzuela also had a duffel bag at his side and began reaching into the bag. The officers could not see his hands so they told him to put his hands behind his back as they attempted to detain him." Valenzuela squirmed free after police had him on the ground. He escaped the laundromat when a cop ended up pulling his shirt off, freeing him to run. In the parking lot, an officer appears to take a full swing kick near Valenzuela's chest or head, but it's unclear if he connected. Quezada says that during this phased of the incident, Valenzuela was tased in the back.
For as clear as the laundromat footage from Coin Laundry was, the 7-Eleven video wasn't worth much of anything. Valenzuela emerges at the furthermost corner of the parking lot with officers subduing him on the ground after he collapsed. Two additional patrol units pull up to the parking lot. The footage is too grainy and distant to make anything out.
But what about attorney Garo Mardirossian saying Valenzuela was tased in the chest based on medical records? "I do not know exactly where he was tased," Quezada said when pressed on the issue, despite having reviewed body-worn cameras. And despite wanting to wait on the autopsy report for Taser questions, the chief made it readily known that Valenzuela had amphetamines in his system based on toxicology. After the news conference, the Weekly asked chief Quezada if Valenzuela attacked the officers at any point. "One of the officers was kicked," he replied. Description of the injuries? Scrapes.
Both officers are back on the job.
ORIGINAL POST, JULY 11, 3:46 P.M.: A slew of media came to the Los Angeles offices of attorney Garo Mardirossian this morning for a press conference regarding the death of Vincent Valenzuela, a homeless man who went in a coma after injuries inflicted by Anaheim police. Valenzuela's family was also there, a day after the difficult call to end all life support. Valenzuela's former wife, Patricia Gonzalez, sat in shock while tears trickled down from the face of his sister, Andrea Valenzuela.
Mardirossian, who previously won a $4.9 million settlement from Fullerton for the death of Kelly Thomas, obtained Valenzuela's medical records just before the press conference and presented new details into the encounter that left him dead, revived and comatose before dying again a week later. "It's certainly appropriate for the police to come and ask Vincent questions," Mardirossian said, noting a woman had called police after allegedly being followed home by him. "But it is not appropriate for the police to use excessive force when no crime has been committed."
Based on medical records, Mardirossian said that Valenzuela had been tased by police, who only admitted to having "activated" the device. Not only did they tase Valenzuela, but markings on his body showed that he'd been hit in the chest. Valenzuela suffered an initial heart attack in the ambulance and two more episodes of cardiac arrest at West Anaheim Medical Center's emergency room, never to recover again.
With Valenzuela's passing, Mardirossian is now preparing a wrongful death lawsuit. "Many defendants will be in the case, including the officers, the city of Anaheim and likely the manufacturer of the Taser device," he says. "That chest area is the worst place you could tase somebody because two darts will then capture the rhythm of the heart—that means it will stop it from beating." The attorney says that Taser International advises against tasing in the chest area. He is currently suing the company in another case in San Bernardino.
Anaheim police guidelines on TASER use are clear. "Reasonable efforts should be made to target lower center mass and avoid the head, neck, chest and groin," the policy manual reads. If they don't, officers must monitor the condition of the person until the arrival of paramedics. Late last night, Anaheim police chief Raul Quezada offered condolences to the family through a press statement. "While any loss of life is tragedy, the death of Mr. Valenzuela while in our custody is particularly impactful," Quezada states.
Vincent Valenzuela, III and son
Courtesy of the family
Without mentioning Quezada's condolences, Gonzalez spoke of the hardships that have already followed her former husband's passing. "It's very hard to tell your children that their father will no longer be apart of their lives," Gonzalez said, her voice quivering with emotion at the press conference. Their son just started 5th grade today, but couldn't make it through class. "I received a call that he wasn't feeling well, and he was shut down and to go pick him up." A recent graduate of the Anaheim police Junior Cadet program, he turns 10 next Tuesday.
The attorney noted "striking similarities" to what happened to Kelly Thomas, who had been taken off life support five years ago yesterday following a beating by Fullerton police. "Kelly Thomas had not committed a crime, just like Vincent Valenzuela had not committed a crime," Mardirossian said. "Kelly Thomas was tased, Vincent Valenzuela was tased."
Both men had families but preferred to live homeless on the streets. Both men suffered from mental health conditions; Thomas with schizophrenia and Valenzuela with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from growing up with an abusive step-parent. The attorney clarified that Valenzuela hadn't been diagnosed for bipolar disorder or any other condition—just PTSD, which may have played a role in the police encounter ending in a fatal tasing.
Mardirossian claimed that Valenzuela walked from Maxwell Park to his aunt's home nearby, but it could be months before the attorney may see footage from officer-worn body cameras and surveillance cameras. "Tape or no tape, there's a case," Mardirossian affirmed. "If you tase somebody in the chest, you can expect that somebody is going to suffer great injuries and in this case, Vincent unfortunately did."
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