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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Peninsula | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice
Family of Yanira Serrano Files Federal Lawsuit Against Deputy Trieu and San Mateo County
On September 9, the family of Yanira Serrano Garcia announced they filed a civil rights lawsuit against San Mateo County and San Mateo Sheriff's Deputy Menh Trieu in Federal District Court in San Francisco for the June 3 killing of Yanira at her home in Half Moon Bay. [Top video: Attorney Arnoldo Casillas speaks. Scroll down for more videos, photos, the independent autopsy, a copy of the lawsuit, and a recording of the 911 call]
The complaint alleges Deputy Trieu shot and killed Yanira without reasonable cause, which is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's limits on police authority. "The fact of the matter is there was no reasonable basis to shoot her," said attorney Arnoldo Casiallas, who is representing the Serrano family in the lawsuit. The complaint also alleges the shooting was a result of negligence on the part of the San Mateo County Sheriff's office due to its insufficient training of Deputy Trieu, as well as the dispatchers who handled the 911 call.
The press conference was held at the location of Yanira's killing, which was outlined in flowers in the street a short distance away from her home in Moodridge, which is a large housing complex in Half Moon Bay.
Yanira's parents spoke publicly about the killing for the first time at the press conference. They were surrounded by supporters.
"They not only killed Yanira, they killed the entire family," said Carmen Garcia Serrano, Yanira's mother. "The goal is to prevent any other family from suffering this kind of pain."
"The only reason we called  was because she wasn't taking her medication," she said.
"The point of the lawsuit is to prevent things like this from happening. There is no other option at this point. All of the doors to justice have been closed, so we are proceeding with this lawsuit, hoping to get justice," Carmen said.
On August 18, San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen M. Wagstaffe announced he would not be filing charges against Deputy Trieu for the killing.
Yanira's brother, Tony Serrano Garcia, was the one who called 911 on the evening of June 3 when the family was having trouble getting 18-year-old Yanira to take her medication. She had been diagnosed as having schizophrenia, and the medication she was prescribed made her feel bad. It could be a challenge for the family to keep her on it. Tony had called for medical help before, and the authorities were aware that Yanira had been schizophrenic since the age of 15. They had visited the Serrano home on three prior occasions without incident.
"He was crystal clear in stating this is not an emergency," Casillas said.
A copy of the 911 call was provided to the press. It begins with the voice of an emergency dispatcher who identified himself as "Dispatcher 157" asking what type of help was needed, "police, fire, or medical." Tony Serrano can be heard on the phone replying "medical," and when asked for his location, Tony immediately added some clarification.
"This is not really an emergency," Tony said. "I'm calling because my sister, she has the schizophrenia."
Tony then gave the dispatcher the address of their home, which is located at 1 Maidenhair Walk in Moonridge.
"She's not taking the medications, she's acting up, and she's yelling at my parents," Tony told the dispatcher when asked again what was wrong.
Tony can then be heard during the call saying that the situation with Yanira had changed, and that they were fine and they had been able to get her to take her medicine. The family said they were about to go to a coffee shop, which they hoped would further calm Yanira down, but the dispatcher instructed them not to leave and to wait for the police.
In the mean time, Yanira was holding a kitchen knife because the medication she was taking made her nauseous and she wanted to peel a piece of fruit and eat it to help ease her stomach. Exactly what type of knife it was has been called into question. The authorities claim it was a 10 inch kitchen knife with a wooden handle, which would make it about the length of a typical butter knife. Casillas claims, however, it was a small paring knife of about 5 1/2 inches in length.
Deputy Trieu was the first to arrive at the Serrano home, and he rushed towards Yanira when he spotted her.
Three deputies were assigned to the call. According to the sheriff's office, the first deputy became lost and was not able to find the home, as was the second deputy assigned. Deputy Trieu responded as the second assistant deputy, and he did not communicate his presence at Moonridge to his superiors who were still on the way.
"He did not follow protocol. His obligation was to sit and wait, not only for the initial responding units, but also for the supervisor, a sergeant that was in route," Casillas said. "Instead he did what he wasn't supposed to do."
He immediately ran into an "explosive" situation, which is what caused Yanira to react and move towards the deputy, Casillas said.
The family has directly attributed the escalation to Deputy Trieu in their description of the events of June 3, saying he ran into the scene like "el diablo" (the devil).
Yanira advanced in the direction of Deputy Trieu with knife in hand, but Casillas claims the deputy was always able to maintain a safe distance between himself and the young woman. No one else was in danger, or located in the immediate area, and family members say Yanira in general was not really able to run.
Besides suffering from schizophrenia, Yanira also had a congenital birth defect, which was a club foot. Additionally, she was five feet tall, and weighed 200 lbs. Her somewhat recent weight gain was the result of side effects from one of the medications she had been prescribed.
"There was nobody in the immediate vicinity. There was nobody he was protecting. He created the threat. He created the emergency. He created the danger," Casillas said.
Deputy Trieu issued no orders or verbal commands to Yanira. Casillas explained this can be determined from the 911 call because the commands Trieu did give are audible on it. Trieu can be heard commanding "get back," while pointing his gun at Yanira's brother and mother, when they were attempting to comfort Yanira as she lay dying, Casillas said.
Within five minutes of the Serrano family calling 911, Yanira was dead. According to the sheriff's office, approximately 30 seconds elapsed between the time Deputy Trieu first arrived at Moonridge and the moment he shot and killed Yanira.
Deputies with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office are required to receive Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) emergency training, but Trieu did not have that training according to Casillas. Casillas called this an act of "deliberate indifference" which shows that San Mateo County does not care about the safety of mentally ill persons.
If Trieu had the training, "he would have followed the protocol," Casillas said, and Yanira would, "still be here."
Additionally, the emergency dispatcher handling the 911 call that evening was undergoing on-the-job training. When listening to the 911 recording, another voice that can be heard on the call is that of someone talking the Dispatcher 157 through his training.
"The shameful part of it is, if there was a trained, capable dispatcher under these circumstances, it might have been a good idea for that trained individual to take over," Casillas said.
Also speaking at the press conference was a representative from the Mexican Consulate.
"We have been following this case since the beginning," she said, but that, "the district attorney never responded to the consulate."
Casillas made it clear that Yanira and the members of the Serrano family were legal residents of the United States, but that they were born in Mexico, which is why the Mexican Consulate had taken an interest in the case.
The Consul stated her office would continue to press for a federal civil rights investigation into the killing of Yanira.
For more information about Justice for Yanira Serrano Garcia, see:
Yanira's mother Carmen Garcia Serrano, Yanira's brother, Tony Serrano Garcia, and Yanira's father, Ignacio Serrano Ruiz speak.
Standing behind Jonathan Melrod is Yanira's father, Ignacio, and her brother, Tony.
The Mexican Consul speaks as Yanira's father, Ignacio Ruiz Serrano looks on.
The San Mateo Sheriff's Office at Moonridge is located about 50 feet from the Serrano home.
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