Many Questions, Few Answers After Hardworking Immigrant Dies in Encounter With NYPD Officers

After more than 15 years in the U.S., Edwin Garcia found himself at a crossroads.

Should he stay in New York in order to continue sending money to his wife and three kids back in El Salvador — or return home to finally be with them?

The 41-year-old East Harlem man worked from morning to night, seven days a week, replacing car windows.

The grinding schedule allowed Garcia, an undocumented immigrant, to send home a few hundred dollars a week. It was a cruel existence — working endless hours to provide for his family without ever actually getting the chance to see them.

A few months ago, Garcia arrived at a decision.

“I want to be with my wife and kids,” he told his uncle. The plan was to return home by Christmas.

Garcia did finally make it back to El Salvador, but he arrived in a coffin.

The beloved father died under mysterious circumstances during an encounter with police May 27.

The incident occurred at the E. 116th St. building where he lived with his younger brother and an unrelated couple.

Shortly before 2 a.m., Garcia started fighting with his male roommate and thrashing around the East Harlem apartment in a frenzied, unhinged state, his brother said.

The man’s wife called 911. Officers were summoned to respond to an “emotionally disturbed person,” police said.

By the time a swarm of cops arrived, Garcia’s brother and the male roommate were holding him at bay.

Officers handcuffed Garcia, who family members said had been drinking tequila earlier that day, and led him out of the apartment.

A surveillance video captured what happened next: Garcia struggled with the officers in the hallway. Seven of them wrestled him to the floor.

He was brought down just outside the view of the surveillance camera, so what happened in that hallway over the next 30 minutes is known only to the officers and EMTs on the scene.

The video footage obtained by the Daily News shows that at least five cops were restraining Garcia for several minutes before the EMTs stepped in.

A white-shirted police lieutenant looked on, directing the officers.

The episode ended with rescue workers rushing an unconscious Garcia to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

In the weeks since, Garcia’s relatives say the police have stonewalled their requests for information.

The city medical examiner’s office has yet to determine a cause of death. But his family members are convinced that Garcia would still be alive if police hadn’t responded to his apartment that morning.

“If you call the police, they’re supposed to help you,” said his brother Marvin. “We didn’t think he would end up dead.”

The NYPD refused to answer detailed questions, including whether Garcia had any previous arrests.

“The investigation is ongoing by the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division and the office of the New York State attorney general,” a department spokeswoman said.

Garcia’s death marks the latest case of a 911 call for an emotionally disturbed person ending in a fatal encounter with police.

New York has seen eight such incidents in just the past year, sparking pleas for the city to rethink how it responds to emergency calls involving people in the throes of psychotic episodes.

Garcia’s case is far from typical. His family says he was not suffering from mental illness and had never before lost control. He also had no known health conditions.

‘Everybody will tell you he’s a good guy, but that night I don’t know what happened,” said Marvin Garcia, adding that his brother had never been arrested.

With the cause of death still pending and the surveillance video inconclusive, it’s impossible to draw conclusions on the role the police played in Garcia’s demise.

Still, experts say the incident adds to the growing body of evidence that mixing police officers with people in an agitated state is a recipe for disaster.

“The arrival of the police can exacerbate the situation,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is a former NYPD cop.

“It can be like waving a flag in front of a bull.”

Carla Rabinowitz, who advocates for the mentally ill, said she hopes the city will follow the model of Houston and Los Angeles in creating teams consisting of cops and trained social workers to respond to 911 calls involving emotionally disturbed people.

“The less we send the police, the less fatalities will happen,” said Rabinowitz, an advocacy coordinator for Community Access, an organization that provides housing and employment training to people with mental health issues.

“This is not a knock on the police. Even a full week of training, as great as it is, may not be enough to prevent what’s going on.”

Garcia slipped into the U.S. in 2002, desperate to earn money to send home to his struggling family. His three children — two girls and a boy — were all under the age of 5.

“(His family was) so poor they didn’t even have their own house,” said Garcia’s uncle Adan Lovato.

Garcia started working an overnight shift at a local grocery store. Relatives said he opened his own car window repair business, working out of a makeshift shop in Long Island City, Queens, about 2005.

Garcia’s earnings, coupled with a spartan lifestyle, allowed him to send home enough money to fund the construction of a large house for his wife, kids and parents.

“He was supporting the whole house,” his uncle said.

Garcia spent the day of May 26 at his shop, servicing cars with window damage.

He downed an unknown amount of tequila after closing up shop.

It wasn’t clear what time he left work, but when his brother Marvin returned to the apartment about 10 p.m., Garcia was asleep on the couch.

About 1:50 a.m., Marvin Garcia was awakened by a ruckus outside his door. He said he emerged to find his brother lashing out at the roommate.

The two men managed to subdue Edwin. Marvin Garcia said he was stunned to see the number of cops who soon flooded into the home.

“We were only two men, and we held him for maybe 15 minutes,” Marvin Garcia said. “Why did 10 police come in? I don’t understand.”

Garcia’s city-based relatives — his brother, aunt and uncle — say they went to the local NYPD precinct and the downtown headquarters seeking answers, but were brushed aside.

They’ve spent the ensuing weeks watching the surveillance video over and over again, trying to analyze the officers’ actions.

“From the video, it does not look clear what happened,” said his aunt Elena Garcia. “But I feel they killed him.”

Marvin Garcia said the pain of his brother’s death is compounded by the absence of information.

“I want answers,” he said. “I want to know exactly why my brother has died. His son asked me, ‘What happened to my dad?’ There’s nothing I could say.”


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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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