Lawsuit: Bipolar Man Beaten and Choked to Death by Anaheim Police

Mike Perkins speaks before media with attorneys by his side. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

Mike Perkins stepped up to a podium outside the Madison Park apartments in Anaheim this morning to recount haunting memories from another morning he wished never happened. During a press conference announcing a wrongful death federal lawsuit against Anaheim police in the killing of Justin Perkins last October, Mike recalled a commotion that roused him from sleep. “I was laying there in bed and that’s when I’m hearing ‘No, it wasn’t me!'” he says of his nephew’s cries. “I looked out the front door and that’s when I saw the beating was happening.”

On that morning, Mike ran towards his nephew to protect him, not knowing that it was Anaheim police officers who wrestled with him on the ground. He got within a few feet when one cop allegedly told him to keep his distance. “I see badges, I see guns,” Mike said. “I’m taught not to attack the police.” What he did do was tell them that his nephew suffered from a mental illness and to stop hitting him. “He’s got the mindset of a 12-year-old but they didn’t want to hear it,” he added. “I say this now, they need to be retrained.”

Mike threw his weathered Lakers cap to the ground in frustration after recounting ending all life support for Perkins just two days after his 38th birthday.

John Burris and DeWitt Lacy, attorneys for Perkins’ mother Teresa, supported their key witness during his tormented testimony before the press. On Friday, they finalized and filed the suit in court alleging that two police officers, Shiao Wang and Kenny Lee, beat and choked Perkins, who suffered from bipolar disorder, to death. The complaint outlines a number of alleged civil rights violations, including wrongful death, excessive force and denial of medical care. Burris, an Oakland-based attorney, once notably represented the late Rodney King in a civil trial, winning a $3.8 million judgement against the Los Angeles Police Department.

“There is no indication that he was involved in any kind of horrendous, illegal activity that justified the level of force employed and directed against him,” Burris said of Perkins. “My office has taken up his cause. He had a right to live. He had a right to a full enjoyment of life.”

Perkins on life support. Courtesy Perkins family

Back on Oct. 27, Anaheim police arrived at the apartment complex around 8:40 a.m. following a call of a reported assault. According to the complaint, officers Wang and Lee responded to the scene and confronted Perkins at the apartment he shared with his uncle. Mike is noted as having heard his nephew deny assaulting anyone earlier that morning when the cops’ attempt to arrest him turned rough, fast.

“Wang and Lee repeatedly and brutally struck [Perkins] about his head, face and body with closed fists,” reads the complaint. “Wang and Lee continued their assault on…Perkins with several baton strikes to his head and body. One of the defendant officers dropped his baton and began to choke…Perkins with an unapproved chokehold.”

Witness accounts referenced claimed that he didn’t strike officers at any time and only struggled to free himself from the chokehold. “He’s not trying to hurt you!” Mike reportedly said during the altercation. “He’s just scared; he has a mental disorder!”

The complaint frames the aftermath of the arrest in jarring terms. Perkins’ body is said to have gone limp. After being handcuffed, officers tried to stand him up, only he looked “dazed” and couldn’t walk without assistance. A few steps in, Perkins collapsed and appeared to be unconscious on the floor. It’s further alleged that 45 minutes passed between the incident and Perkins receiving medical attention at West Anaheim Medical Center, where he spent days in a coma.

“As a result of the officers’ unconstitutionally abusive and negligent conduct, Perkins was pronounced dead on October 31, 2018,” the complaint reads.

Justin’s uncle and sister, Jody Gigliotti, lead the march. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

Wang, Lee, Anaheim and the Anaheim Police Department are named as defendants. The city has 21 days to respond to the complaint, but an Anaheim spokesman says while they’re aware of it, they haven’t received it yet. “Our officers responded to a call for help for someone being assaulted and acted in their duty as peace officers,” spokesman Mike Lyster adds. “They sustained serious injuries and have yet to be cleared to return to work. Beyond that, we want to respect all involved by letting reviews of the incident and any legal process play out.”

Initial reports by Anaheim police in October stated that two officers were “seriously injured” in attempting to arrest Perkins, described as an assault and battery suspect. They had to be taken to a local trauma center. According to Mike Perkins’ recollection of that morning, a cop complained about having been bitten during the struggle but the nature of the injuries are exempt from disclosure as the Weekly learned when first asking about the case in November.

Police activated body-worn cameras at the time of the incident, footage that may become crucial evidence in a criminal probe and civil litigation. As for now, attorneys have asked for the videos, but have been denied. Citing ongoing investigations, Lyster deemed any public release of the footage to be “premature” at this time.

In the meantime, the Orange County District Attorney’s office continues its investigation into whether officers acted lawfully or criminally in the in-custody death of Perkins. The investigation joins other similar cases in Anaheim last year. In March, Christopher Eisinger, a homeless man, was pulled off life support following an altercation with police. The OCDA released body camera footage of the incident in December after declining to press charges against the officers. The Eisinger family has also filed a lawsuit. In June, Ian Elliott Tompko, another homeless man reported to have been acting erratically, died after officers attempted to arrest him.

Family members fondly remember Perkins as a young man interested in theater who later became diagnosed with bipolar disorder during his early years at Cypress College. After the press conference, nearly two dozen supporters set off for a “Justice for Justin” march to the Anaheim Police Department. Before joining the trek, Teresa shared memories of the last night out for dinner that she enjoyed with her son.

“We had a nice time,” she recalled. “When I came to drop him off at the safest place I could think of at 9 o’clock at night, by 9 o’clock the next morning he was dead.”

5 Replies to “Lawsuit: Bipolar Man Beaten and Choked to Death by Anaheim Police”

  1. bipolar people are never violent. hopefully officers have body cams to show what really happened as no one believes news anymore

    1. Umm…If you read the story (or the one I wrote in November) I report that Anaheim police activated body cameras during the incident.

  2. Sad that the family has to file a lawsuit to get answers and justice for Justin. Those officers suffered bites and scratches from Justin fighting back in self defense. It is scary to think that anyone with mental issues could lose their life at the hands to people they have been taught to trust. Justin had great respect for police, with his older brother being a respected LA Sheriff. They are a very close family.

  3. I have said it before. There are so many young adults with autism. The rate keeps going up and government claims they don’t know why. I don’t believe it. But these children that grow up to adult hood are target practice for police. They can’t/or maybe can speak but when they try to protect themselves from being beaten to death they are resisting the law. All at the money in the world will not bring him back. Not all officers are bad but the ones that partook in this need to pay and never work in any kind of law enforcement again.

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