The family of a man detained by law enforcement at a Bernalillo Wal-Mart in 2015 believes police tools and tactics contributed to his death.
Town of Bernalillo and Pueblo of Santa Ana police officers placed a spit sock on the man’s face and laid him on his belly with his hands and feet restrained behind him.
Police reports reveal Ben Anthony C de Baca, who had a history of mental illness, got into an argument with a family member on Sept. 6, 2015.
He drove to the Bernalillo Wal-Mart, hit a parked car and once inside the store began to destroy merchandise.
Wal-Mart patrons helped subdue him before Bernalillo and Santa Ana Pueblo police arrived.
Once inside, police on-body cameras show the officers putting leg and wrist restraints on C de Baca.
He is shouting and appears to be hysterical. During some points in the video, one officer applies additional force by keeping his knee on his back.
“Want to give me a knee on this shoulder here?” one officer is heard saying on camera.
“Let’s see if we can pick him up and walk him out.”
“Stand up or we are going to drag you out one way or another,” another officer is heard saying.
The officers dragged him out of the store and laid him on the parking lot on his belly with his hands and legs restrained behind him.
At some point during the struggle, C de Baca bit an officer on the thigh. The officers decided to also place a spit sock over his face.
“What is that?” one officer asks on camera.
“A f****g bite mark, dude. This c**t f**k bit the f**k out of me, dude.
I had to punch his ass off of me,” the other officer replied.
A few moments later, the video reveals that C de Baca begins to cry out repeatedly that he can’t breathe and even shouts to the officers that he is dying.
The video shows the officers ignored his cries and continued to leave him on his belly with a spit sock over his face.
Less than three minutes later, C de Baca was dead. The officers quickly scramble to revive him, but it’s too late.
Months later, the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator would rule that his cause of death was “Excited delirium (cocaine intoxication) complicated by means of physical restraint.” OMI ruled the manner of death a homicide.
“I will tell you that spit sock is not to be used for the purpose of trying to stop someone from biting,” said Ahmad Assed, the attorney representing C de Baca’s family. “What we are saying is they misused and misapplied the spit sock on Mr. C de Baca.
In doing so, they were very negligent. He is clearly crying out for help. He was clearly indicating to them that he couldn’t breathe.”
Assed believes in addition to the misplacement of the spit sock, C de Baca may have also died from positional asphyxia, a term used when the weight of one’s body puts so much pressure on the lungs when on the belly and hog-tied, a person dies.
About 12 minutes after C de Baca took his last breath, the video shows two police officers giving each other a fist bump.
“That is the most troubling for me,” Assed said. “It shows a sign for me that says, ‘We are not human. We know someone 10 feet away from us is dead as a result of what we may have done and we have the ability to fist bump one another of top of a dead body.’”
A second, wider view of the fist bump shows the officers may have just been greeting each other. But what exactly the fist bumps meant is a mystery.
The Town of Bernalillo police chief declined to be interviewed for this report, citing pending litigation.
The Pueblo of Santa Ana police chief also declined an interview, stating he needed more time to review the case since he wasn’t the chief when the incident happened.
The Rio Rancho Police Department conducted an investigation into the in-custody death of C de Baca but found the police officers on scene did not show criminal intent.
The detectives’ report for the district attorney does not recommend prosecution.
Still, Assed plans to file a wrong death civil lawsuit in this matter.