HONOLULU, HI — A man seeking help during a period of mental instability had his life ended shortly thereafter by police officers who sat on him so long in his driveway that he died of asphyxiation. The death was officially ruled a homicide, yet no one was ever charged.
The incident took place the morning of February 20th, 2012. Aaron Torres, 37, called 9-1-1 emergency services himself seeking help. Torres, who happened to be the transportation captain for the TV series “Hawaii Five-O,” was suffering from a state of delirium caused by substance abuse.
At 4:27 a.m. a police dispatcher asked him if he needed assistance.
“Yeah, help…help…help, please,” Torres responded. The response would not be as helpful as he may have anticipated.
Honolulu Police soon arrived, and rather than providing the medical assistance he had requested, officers were looking to arrest him.
Torres “was saying there was no reason to arrest him and the officers were indicating they were going to arrest him for something,” a family lawsuit alleged.
Aaron’s sister Tassa Torres came outside after hearing the early-morning dispute. She witnessed what came next.
Officers moved to arrest Mr. Torres. After handcuffing him, he was thrown to the ground. One officer sat on his back, another sat on his head and neck and a third “was shackling Aaron’s legs while Aaron was yelling that they were hurting him.”
“They kept telling him to stop moving and Aaron kept yelling that they were hurting him,” the lawsuit said. “It seems clear that he was just moving, trying to breathe because of the way the officers pressed his face into the dirt.”
Finally after “what seemed like at least 30 minutes” Mr. Torres stopped moving. He had suffocated to death. His sister discovered dirt lodged in his nose after his face had been pressed into the ground.
“The family of this young man were just beside themselves when they watched the barrage on this young man until he died,” said Michael Green, the family’s attorney. “People (were) screaming out to stop, leave him alone and don’t do that.”
“He’s not one of these guys who’s 6 feet four, 350 pounds. He was a little guy. And there were at least three police officers there for a long time,” said Green. “These officers are trained to be able, within a minute or two, to take a suspect, even a much larger suspect, and reduce that person to a point where they can’t fight back.”
The medical examiner determined Torres’ death to be a homicide. Yet no one was ever criminally charged. The prosecutor believed that the officers were operating as trained.
The 3 officers received no sanctions within the department. In fact, 2 have been promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
The City of Honolulu settled a civil lawsuit with the Torres family in May 2014 for $1.4 million. Despite the fact that all of those who committed the homicide received no punishment, the city remained implicitly liable for the death, as the outcome of the lawsuit obviously shows.
As we have repeatedly seen, sending government force to ‘deal with’ a person suffering from mental instability is often a recipe for disaster. Requesting the forceful presence of government agents should only be sought with extreme caution. The pervasive enforcer mentality has proved to many people that the response that they may receive could turn out to be dramatically less than helpful [Read more].