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Family of mentally ill NYC man shot by police in Bronx say city mental health services should have responded instead

New York Daily News 3/28/2023 Rocco Parascandola, Leonard Greene, New York Daily News
Police at the scene of Raul de la Cruz's shooting outside his father's apartment building in the Bronx on Sunday. © Theodore Parisienne/New York Daily News/TNS Police at the scene of Raul de la Cruz's shooting outside his father's apartment building in the Bronx on Sunday.

Two bullets to the chest is too high a price to pay for being mentally ill, a Bronx woman said days after her brother was shot and critically wounded by cops responding to a call for a domestic dispute.

Raul de la Cruz faced another round of surgery at St. Barnabas Hospital on Tuesday, two days after police shot the knife-wielding man outside his parents’ home in Fordham Manor.

The shooting involved officers from the 52nd Precinct, which is not included in an NYPD initiative to improve police responses to peoples’ mental health emergencies. In a report last year, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams wrote of the need for the city to address crises involving mentally ill people “holistically ... as an issue of health, rather than simply law enforcement.”

Raul de la Cruz was taken to the hospital after he was shot by NYPD officers in front of a building on Grand Concourse in the Bronx on Sunday, © Theodore Parisienne/New York Daily News/TNS Raul de la Cruz was taken to the hospital after he was shot by NYPD officers in front of a building on Grand Concourse in the Bronx on Sunday,

De la Cruz, 42, was visiting his father when he suffered what his father described to police as a “medical episode.”

After two officers from the 52nd Precinct met his father outside of the building on the Grand Concourse, de la Cruz stormed out of the building’s vestibule, “clearly agitated,” according to NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell.

Cops said de la Cruz approached them with a knife, which he refused to drop. When he got too close, the cops fired several shots, including two that hit de la Cruz in the chest. He was also shot in his leg.

But family members said the situation would never have escalated so quickly if dispatchers had sent the right personnel to deal with the situation.

“The police should not respond to a mental health crisis,” said Maiset de la Cruz, 44, the wounded man’s sister. “They shouldn’t be using violence on sick people.

“Their job is that they are supposed to take care of people. But you cannot trust them with your sick relative. The police are not there to help. A knife is not a gun.”

In October, the NYPD expanded a pilot program in which city EMTs and paramedics and clinical social workers employed by NYC Health + Hospitals respond to calls in which an emotionally disturbed person has no weapon and is not being violent.

The program is called B-HEARD, which stands for Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division. B-HEARD teams are dispatched by 911 operators.

But Williams’ report last fall said too few of the 500 calls about mentally ill people taken by 911 operators every day are handled by B-HEARD teams. It also found that response times by B-HEARD teams had increased.

Facebook livestream videos posted before Sunday’s shooting led Santo de la Cruz to seek help for his son.

In one video, Raul can be seen provoking police officers at a subway station. “White man, white man come to me,” the video shows Raul saying to police officers while wearing a basketball cap with an Israeli flag patch ironed onto the brim.

Another livestream video of Raul was posted just moments before the shooting, and was recorded outside his parents’ apartment complex.

“My father will call the police on me,” he said. ”I will wait for them here. I told them I’ll wait for the white man. I will face them face to face.”

The video ends with him running up the stairs into the building’s lobby.

“It wasn’t a fight. It wasn’t an argument,” Maiset said.

Fearing police might hurt his son, Santo de la Cruz called 311 in hope an Emergency Medical Service crew would come to his son’s aid instead, Maiset de la Cruz said. “We didn’t want him to hurt anyone, but we didn’t want anyone to hurt him either,” she explained.

Police came anyhow. Operators on the 311 system forward to 911 calls they deem emergencies.

Maiset said the shooting left her brother in bad shape in his hospital bed.

“He’s not breathing on his own,” the sister said. “He’s intubated, sedated, just laying down. You can’t tell if he’s alive or dead by looking at him.”

Maiset said Raul began to struggle with his mental health after the family moved to New York from the Dominican Republic 14 years ago.

“He developed everything a few years after we moved here,” Maiset said.

Raul and his daughter, who is now 19 years old, were “in and out of shelters because of his mental illness,” the sister said.

“They sent him to Bellevue Hospital and we got custody of my niece until she turned 18,” she said.

The daughter’s mother is in the Dominican Republic, unable to immigrate to the U.S.

Maiset de la Cruz she said authorities once took her brother to court to force him to take medication — but that a judge ruled in favor of her brother’s opposition to the plan.

“It’s not him. It’s a sickness,” she said. ”They see things we don’t see. They hear things we don’t hear. I wish people would be more kind. It’s a disease they cannot control.”

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