Giovanny Martinez was desperate when he approached a police cruiser parked on an Annandale street last week and told a Fairfax County officer he wanted to die, his family said detectives have told them.
The officer, sufficiently alarmed that Martinez was suffering a mental or medical emergency, had him taken by ambulance to Inova Fairfax Hospital to be evaluated.
Since the death last year of a mentally ill inmate who was Tasered at the Fairfax County jail, law enforcement officials in the county have heightened efforts to divert people with psychiatric issues they encounter into treatment.
But in the case of Martinez, something went tragically amiss.
Six hours after approaching the police cruiser on Aug. 15, and shortly after leaving Inova Fairfax Hospital, Martinez had an apparent mental health episode while waiting at a bus stop and charged a sheriff’s deputy with a metal sign post, police said.
The deputy shot and killed Martinez.
Now the family of the 29-year-old, who relatives said had struggled with mental health problems in recent months, is wondering how their loved one could end up dead after apparently seeking help for himself.
“Why didn’t they place him in confinement, and why didn’t the hospital see that he was having problems in his head?” said Martinez’s cousin, Orlando Lemus Garcia, 29. “He didn’t have to die in that way.”
So far, the family’s questions remain largely unanswered.
Citing federal health privacy laws, Inova Fairfax spokeswoman Tracy J. Connell has declined to answer questions about Martinez’s evaluation, treatment or release from the hospital and has not responded to general questions about how the hospital handles people thought to be having a mental crisis.
“Inova continues to cooperate with the Fairfax County Police Department as they conduct a full investigation of this incident and will not be commenting further at this time,” Connell said in an email.
Police said their probe is seeking answers to the same questions about Martinez’s time at the hospital.
In the account police have released, they say Martinez approached a police cruiser parked outside a gas station on Little River Turnpike shortly before 2 p.m. that Monday and began talking to the officer.
The officer called first responders, who evaluated Martinez and decided he needed to be taken to the hospital.
Police said the officer also went to the hospital to ensure that Inova could do a mental evaluation of Martinez, in case he needed to be taken to a local crisis center.
Police said medical staff advised the officer that Martinez was not in mental distress. The officer wrapped up the investigation and left Martinez in the care of the hospital at around 4 p.m., police said.
Martinez was discharged later that night for reasons the hospital has not disclosed, and hospital security escorted him to a bus stop on the Inova campus in Falls Church.
A short time later, police said, hospital guards responded to calls about a suspicious man at the bus stop. Police said Martinez hit one of the security guards with a metal sign post.
Just before 10 p.m., hospital security called the county’s 911 line to report a person at the bus stop with a bladed weapon. A Fairfax County sheriff’s deputy, who was at the hospital guarding a patient from the jail, heard the 911 radio traffic and went to the stop before Fairfax police officers arrived.
In Fairfax County, sheriff’s deputies provide jail and courthouse security but also have authority to operate as law enforcement officers elsewhere in the county, Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid said.
Martinez charged the deputy, whose name has not been released, and swung the sign post at him, police said. The deputy retreated and ordered Martinez to drop it, police said. When Martinez continued to approach, the deputy opened fire several times, striking Martinez. Martinez later died of his injuries.
After the incident, Lemus said detectives relayed to the family details of what happened.
Lemus said detectives told them that Martinez had been walking along Little River Turnpike and, feeling desperate, approached a squad car and rapped on the window. Martinez told the officer that he wanted to take pills and die.
Until recently, his family said, Martinez was calm and relatively easygoing — the same person who liked to play soccer and fish with his cousins and uncles in his native Honduras and who dreamed with them about a better life.
“We’d sit around wondering who would be the first to go” to the United States, said Martinez’s uncle, Noe Sanchez Amaya, 27. “He came first. And then he sent the money for me to come.”
About two months ago, Martinez began telling relatives he was feeling depressed, enough that he took himself two or three times to the Inova hospital near his home in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, Lemus said.
Martinez rented a room in the neighborhood and caught a ride every morning from an uncle to a dishwashing job at a Manassas restaurant.
Martinez’s case has troubled some mental health advocates, who said they would like to see more information made public.
Mira Signer, executive director of the Virginia branch of National Alliance on Mental Illness, said people with mental illness can be involuntarily committed if they pose an imminent danger to themselves or others.
She said that if Martinez did not meet that legal criterion or did not want mental health care, the hospital would not be obligated to hold him. Signer wondered what was done to care for him.
“Could they have done more to keep him safe at the hospital?” Signer asked. “Did they encourage him to stay? Use other strategies to get him to settle down? With the hospital invoking HIPAA [a medical privacy law], we won’t know.”
Fairfax County law enforcement moved to a “Diversion First” model at the beginning of the year, in response to the Natasha McKenna case. McKenna, who had schizophrenia, died following a violent encounter with deputies at the Fairfax County jail.
Under “Diversion First,” law enforcement officials attempt to divert people with mental health problems and who have committed nonviolent, low-level offenses into treatment instead of jail. Officers also get crisis intervention training for dealing with the mentally ill.
So far this year, law enforcement has transferred 771 people to the Merrifield Crisis Response Center, officials said.
Lemus said the family learned of Martinez’s death two days after it occurred, when a Fairfax County detective arrived at Lemus’s restaurant job in Annandale with a flier asking for the public’s help identifying the man shown in a photo.
Martinez’s relatives had seen a Spanish-language TV news report about a man being shot to death outside Inova Fairfax Hospital but had no idea it was Giovanny.
“This man is dead. Do you know him?” Lemus recalled the detective asking.
Lemus said his heart sank as he replied that he did.
“That’s how we found out,” he said. “We hadn’t heard anything about him.”
As the investigation continues, Martinez’s remains are at a morgue in Manassas, the family said. Meanwhile, family members in Honduras wait to learn more.
Martinez’s mother, Victoria Gomez Martinez, has taken to her bed after hearing of her son’s death, Lemus said.
“She’s in a bad state,” Lemus said. “The whole family is.”