In December, Angelo Quinto, a Navy veteran from Antioch, California, stopped breathing after police violently subdued him during a mental health episode. When the Quinto family called 911 to assist the 30-year-old, who began suffering from "paranoia and anxiety" after being assaulted earlier that year, according to the Washington Post, they were expecting help in deescalating the situation. The officers who arrived at their home on December 23, however, were not there to help. Instead, Cassandra Quinto-Collins, his mother, said the officers became violent and kneeled down on her son's neck to subdue him. Quinto was pinned down for nearly five minutes, according to his family, and died at a hospital nearby three days later.
A video shot by Cassandra, which was publicly released on Thursday, shows the moment after Quinto was allegedly strangled by police. In the video, Quinto appears face down on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back. He is unresponsive, and officers try shaking his body to wake him up. Quinto-Collins then asked: "what happened?" and asked the officers standing over his body if he had a pulse. Two officers then flip Quinto over, revealing his bloody face. He is quickly put into a white tarp bag and his body is transported out of the room.
Throughout the video, the officers asked Quinto-Collins if her son had any "illegal drugs" in his system or if she "saw anything," while she repeatedly explained that she just came home from work and didn't know what happened.
At the end of the footage from December 23, John Burris, the Quinto family's attorney, featured a reenactment of the moments before he was no longer responding. Narrated by family members and lawyers, the reenactment shows officers pushing Quinto to the floor as he says "please don't kill me," twice. One officer then puts a knee to the back of Quinto's neck, while another handcuffs him. According to their account, officers held him down for four and a half to five minutes total before noticing he was bleeding and turning him over.
According to Lieutenant John Fortner, the Antioch Police Department did not want to publicize what happened to Angelo Quinto while they continued to investigate his cause of death and to maintain his family's privacy. But the Quinto family has since expressed their regret in trusting the police at all.
In the days following the video's circulation, the Antioch Police Department has largely remained silent. Lieutenant John Fortner still maintains that the police officers on the scene remained nonviolent, despite the fatality that occurred from a distressed person being kneeled on. In a January statement, Fortner said that although the officers handcuffed Quinto, they never made use of any other excessive force.
What is clear from Quinto's death is, once again, how ill-equipped police officers are in the face of mental health crises. Quinto's story is a tragedy that mirrors the death of Daniel Prude, who was pinned down and killed by police officers in Rochester, New York last December. Like Quinto, Prude needed assistance during a mental health episode; instead, the responding officers made fun of him, publicly, before suffocating him. Prude died of "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint" a week later. But not before footage of his death circulated online.
It's this type of excessive and uncontrolled force from police officers nationwide that continues to drive forward the movement to defund the police in the U.S. Social justice advocates, including the ACLU, believe that right now — as we continue to face death after death at the hands of police officers in America — communities will benefit from access to resources that are not police in times of emergency or distress. And that's exactly what we need: professionals who can deescalate mental health crises without resorting to putting a knee in someone's neck, the very thing that caused George Floyd to die and sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.