A Mentally Ill Navy Vet Died in Police Custody. Now His Family Is Seeking Answers

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A man wearing a police vest looks at a police car with lights flashing. Getty Images
A man wearing a police vest looks at a police car with lights flashing. Getty Images

A shaky cellphone video from an Antioch mother shows police officers turning her handcuffed son onto his back on her bedroom floor. Blood covers his mouth; his body appears listless.

Three days later, doctors pronounced 30-year-old Angelo Quinto dead at Sutter Delta Medical Center. What happened before that moment is the subject of a new legal claim against the city, a draft of which was obtained by The Chronicle.

A claim is the first step toward suing a city or county, and this one seeks damages of more than $25,000. It alleges wrongful death, assault, battery, negligent hiring by the Antioch Police Department, breach of duty by the officers accused of putting Quinto at risk of serious physical injury, and other offenses.

"It's a really tragic situation," said Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who hired a private investigator to probe the details surrounding Quinto's death.

The incident occurred seven months after the Minneapolis death of George Floyd ignited a national conversation about police use of force and accountability — one that Quinto's family said deserves to be happening in Antioch.

It has also raised questions about transparency from the Antioch Police Department. Burris said the department has not released body-worn camera footage of the encounter, and it is not clear from the cellphone video whether the officers at the scene were wearing body cameras.

Police didn't disclose Quinto's death to the public for nearly a month. When Antioch police Lt. John Fortner spoke to The San Jose Mercury News in January, he said that although officers did handcuff Quinto, they refrained from other forms of physical force.

Fortner told the Mercury News that police delayed publishing a press release, in part to protect the family's privacy and also because the cause of death was undetermined. He told The Chronicle on Wednesday that the Contra Costa County district attorney and sheriff's Coroner's Division are investigating Quinto's death, and that the agencies will provide more information when portions of the review are complete.

As of Wednesday, the Antioch Police Department had not posted a press release on its website or social media regarding Quinto's death.

The legal claim stems from a chaotic encounter at the family's home on Crestwood Drive, shortly after 11 p.m. on Dec. 23. Quinto, who family members say suffered from anxiety, grabbed his mother and sister and began hugging them tightly around their heads and shoulders.

"He was trying to keep us close, and it really freaked us out," Quinto's sister, Isabella "Bella" Collins, recalled in an interview Wednesday.

Collins managed to extricate herself and called police, saying her brother was acting erratically and that she feared he might hurt her mother.

When officers arrived, they found Maria Cassandra Quinto-Collins seated on the floor of her bedroom and embracing her son, according to a report from private investigator Juan Sigler, which is based on interviews with the mother and daughter.

Police took Quinto from his mother, turned him on his stomach and handcuffed him. His mother said Quinto pleaded for his life when officers pinned him down, with one officer holding his legs while the other placed a knee on his neck.

In the cellphone video, which doesn't capture the initial encounter, Quinto appears unresponsive as police flip him over onto his left side, revealing blood smeared on his mouth and a blood stain on the floor. Photos obtained by the Chronicle show a pool of blood near his body.

"His eyes were rolled up in his head," Collins said, adding that her brother looked purple.

Though doctors said Quinto died on Dec. 26, his mother has not yet heard a cause of death. Spokespersons for the sheriff's office, which includes the coroner, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

After the ambulance took Quinto away, officers took his mother and sister to the police station to be photographed and interviewed, they said. At one point, Quinto-Collins received a phone call from a doctor treating Quinto, but she said a police staff member intervened and would not let her finish the conversation.

Quinto showed signs of depression for most of his life, though it was never diagnosed, Collins said. She and her mother characterized him as caring and sweet-natured, with an artistic side that came through when he began doing graffiti as a teenager. He graduated from Berkeley High School in 2008 and attended classes at Berkeley City College. In his 20s Quinto joined the Navy but was granted a medical discharge in 2019 due to a food allergy.

Collins said her brother's behavior changed after an apparent assault early last year, which left Quinto with a black eye, a head wound that required stitches and no memory of what happened. In subsequent months, Quinto seemed anxious and edgy, Collins noted.

Collins described her decision to call the police as the biggest regret of her life.

"We trusted them too much during a time of fear and vulnerability and panic," she said Wednesday. In hindsight, she said, "I would not call them if this happened again."

This article is written by Rachel Swan from San Francisco Chronicle and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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