LANCASTER – “They didn’t have to kill him.”
That’s what Ricardo Munoz’s mother, Miguelina Peña, said through sobs Monday afternoon – less than 24 hours after her son was killed in a police-involved shooting.
The Lancaster police officer could have used a Taser or shot him somewhere other than his heart, she said, as her daughter, Deborah Munoz, translated her words from Spanish.
Ricardo Munoz suffered from schizophrenia and paranoia, according to the family, who said they had been having difficulty getting him the help that he needed.
When her son had an episode on Sunday, the family called crisis intervention first, and their instructions were to call the police.
“Isn’t their logo to protect and serve?” Deborah Munoz asked. “That’s why we trusted them.”
She called her brother’s death a case of police brutality.
The police-involved shooting occurred around 4:15 p.m. Sunday on the 300 block of Laurel Street in Lancaster.
A body camera video released by investigators shows the officer firing as Munoz charges at him with what appears to be a large knife in his raised right hand.
The video shows Munoz rushing out of a row home at the officer, who retreats and then fires as Munoz chases him.
But the video doesn’t tell the whole story, Peña said. She knows the video looks bad, but she said the police could have handled the situation differently because they knew he suffered from a mental-health disorder.
“I don’t know what was going through his head, none of us would,” Deborah Munoz said about her brother. “I don’t know what he saw when he saw the police officer that he just charged like that. We don’t know. But we needed help. I didn’t need for my brother to be dead. I needed for him to get mental help.”
Peña added, “Instead of coming to help, they came here to kill him.”
Her husband and Munoz’ stepfather, Victor Fernandez, added the police pushed Peña to the ground, nobody called an ambulance, and his body was left on the ground for hours.
If the police did not intend to kill him, they wouldn’t have shot him through the heart, Peña added.
“Where’s the Tasers? That would have been more than enough to stop him,” Deborah Munoz said. “We needed help. We needed to get him some help, and we all failed him. There were so many occasions they were sending us to different locations and no one was actually helping him. We don’t want this to happen to anyone else. There are many people out there who have mental-health problems, but no one is speaking for them.”
Peña described her son as being a good, quiet person, but because of his condition, his mood could change quickly.
Lancaster police directed questions about the shooting the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office, which is investigating.
“We continue to review and investigate the circumstances surrounding the shooting and, specifically, the firing officer’s actions,” a statement from the DA’s office read. “As we stated Sunday night (and as depicted in a body cam video released by Lancaster city police), our preliminary investigation shows that the officer fired as a man clearly armed with a knife ran toward the officer in a threatening manner.”
District Attorney Heather Adams will make a determination on the use of force.
At a press conference earlier Monday, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace acknowledged that Munoz’ death makes it clear there needs to be an increase in funding for behavioral and mental health services, not only in the city, but in the county, state and federal levels.
It also emphasizes inequality in the city and the need to better fund housing, social and educational services, she said.
Ricardo Munoz’ death also sparked protests in the city Sunday night into Monday morning, some of which turned violent and destructive with protesters throwing rocks and other items at the police. According the the DA’s office, the county SERT team was called in and used tear gas multiple times.
Protesters this morning said it was out-of-town agitators who came in and caused the caused the violence.
Eight people have since been arrested in connection with the violence at the protest.
Munoz’ sister, Deborah, said she supports the right to protest, but the violence needs to end.
“We do not condone violence at all. We do not need another life to be lost because of this,” she said. “We just need to come together as a community, but do it the right way with peaceful protest. Not with violence. This is not the answer either.”
(c)2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)
Visit The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.) at www.pennlive.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.