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Family of man who died following Santa Fe Depot detention sues two SDPD officers

Angel Zapata Hernandez is pinned to the ground by a MTS code compliance officer and a private Transit System Security officer near the downtown Santa Fe Depot, Oct. 15, 2019.
San Diego Metropolitan Transit System
Angel Zapata Hernandez is pinned to the ground by a MTS code compliance officer and a private Transit System Security officer near the downtown Santa Fe Depot, Oct. 15, 2019.

The family of a man who died after he was taken into custody near the downtown Santa Fe Depot has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against two San Diego police officers who were present during his detention.

Angel Zapata Hernandez, 24, died on Oct. 15, 2019, after an MTS code compliance officer encountered him that day near the tracks north of the depot. That officer and a private security guard took Zapata Hernandez into custody, restraining him face down on the ground for several minutes.

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Attorneys representing the family allege Zapata Hernandez was held down in an unsafe manner, which included the MTS officer placing his knee to Zapata Hernandez's neck for nearly six minutes while he was handcuffed.

While the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System announced in April that a $5.5 million settlement was reached with Zapata Hernandez's family, the lawsuit filed Thursday in San Diego federal court alleges San Diego police officers Jordan Belchamber and Christino Quinonez, who arrived on scene later, should have stopped the detaining officers from restraining Zapata Hernandez in that fashion.

The lawsuit alleges that Quinonez ordered the officers to "stay on" Zapata Hernandez "despite his recognition of Angel's supine position, his lack of movement, and his nonresistance."

The complaint also states that Belchamber was previously trained as an Emergency Medical Technician and thus "had a clear understanding of the need for immediate action in this dangerous situation."

After Zapata Hernandez stopped breathing, the lawsuit alleges Belchamber and Quinonez allowed him to be rolled onto his back, but CPR was not administered in a timely fashion.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office listed the manner of death as homicide, and stated the cause of death was sudden cardio pulmonary arrest while in prone restraint.

"Angel died on the scene as a result of the continued pressure on his back and the delay in resuscitation," according to the complaint.

Both officers who restrained Zapata Hernandez have since resigned. Criminal charges were not filed in connection with the death.

In addition to the monetary settlement with Zapata Hernandez's family, the MTS announced in April that it agreed to make changes to its security policies and training. Sharon Cooney, MTS CEO, said at the time that the death could have been prevented by better training in psychiatric emergency response and de-escalation, both of which are now in place in the agency's revised policies.