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Navy veteran in mental health crisis died after police knelt on his neck for nearly five minutes, his family says

Angelo Quinto, 30, was handcuffed on the floor by police responding to a mental health crisis in December. He died three days later in a hospital. (John. L. Burris)

Angelo Quinto lay facedown on the hardwood floor of his mother’s bedroom with blood pooling out of his mouth and his hands cuffed behind his back.

“What happened?” his mother, Cassandra Quinto-Collins, breathlessly asked two police officers huddled over his body in a video she shot of the Dec. 23 scene in their Antioch, Calif., home.

Quinto’s family had called 911 because the 30-year-old Navy veteran was suffering a mental health crisis. But Quinto-Collins said she watched in horror as a responding officer knelt on her son’s neck for nearly five minutes while another officer restrained him.

Then, he stopped breathing. “Can you take him, please?” she pleads in the video.

Days later, Quinto died in a nearby hospital.

While the Antioch Police Department has released virtually no information on his case for weeks — including the names of the officers involved or an official cause of death — Quinto’s family now says their own investigation suggests police asphyxiated him by failing to follow proper procedures in a mental health emergency. The family filed a legal claim last week, a precursor to suing the department.

“They put … the knee on the back of his neck and pressed down for about five minutes and snuffed his life out,” John Burris, the family’s attorney, said at a news conference on Thursday.

Antioch police didn’t immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post late Sunday. The agency, which nearly two months later has yet to post any public statements about Quinto’s death, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the Contra Costa County district attorney and sheriff’s office are investigating the case.

The circumstances of Quinto’s death suggest a parallel to George Floyd, who died last May after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, and also echo a national movement to change how police respond to mental health crises — or even, in some communities, to remove police from responding to such emergencies entirely.

Fatal police shootings of mentally ill people are 39 percent more likely to take place in small and midsized areas

Quinto, who was born in the Philippines, was honorably discharged from the Navy for a food allergy in 2019, the Chronicle reported. He loved online gaming, scuba diving and fishing, his family said at Thursday’s news conference.

But his behavior changed after suffering a head injury in an apparent assault last year, his family told the Chronicle, and he began suffering bouts of paranoia and anxiety. Late on Dec. 23, he began acting erratically. His sister, Isabella Collins, called 911 for help, and police arrived after 11 p.m. to find his mother embracing him on the floor, according a report compiled by the family’s private investigator, the Chronicle reported.

When officers flipped Quinto over and pinned him on his stomach, he pleaded for his life, his mother said.

“He said, ‘Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me,’ ” she told KTVU.

His mother eventually began recording on her cellphone, but didn’t capture the initial encounter with police, including the officer allegedly kneeling on his neck. Her video starts as police realize Quinto is unresponsive and then hurriedly remove his handcuffs and roll him into a mobile stretcher. As his mother pleads for information, an officer applies chest compressions in the hallway.

“Does he have a pulse?” she asks. “What is happening?”

Quinto died on Dec. 26. But it took Antioch police nearly a month to acknowledge his death and their role in the incident, after the San Jose Mercury News began asking about the case. Lt. John Fortner, an Antioch police spokesperson, said at the time that police had handcuffed Quinto but didn’t use any physical force.

That’s untrue, his family says. In a reenactment of the scene the family filmed for Burris, they described one officer pinning Quinto’s neck and head under his knee while the other held onto the 30-year-old’s legs and handcuffed him.

“This was a healthy person before, no physical problems,” said Burris, “and within moments, his life is gone.”

Burris said police have refused to release any information on the case to family members or their attorneys, and the officers involved were not wearing body cameras. Along with Quinto’s family, he called for Antioch police to retrain its officers to deal with mental health crises.

“I’m always going to regret calling the police and hope no one has to regret doing what they think is the right thing,” Collins, Quinto’s sister, told KTVU.