Los Angeles County Sheriff Department and Shooting of Isaias Cervantes



April 9, 2021

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

4909 Lakewood Blvd #400

Lakewood, CA 90712

Senator Lena Gonzalez

500 Citadel Drive

Commerce, CA 90040

RE: Los Angeles County Sheriff Department and Shooting of Isaias Cervantes

Dear Assembly Member Rendon and Senator Gonzalez,

The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration is among the largest and oldest advocacy organizations providing services, supports and advocacy with and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families. The Arc/UCP CA Collaboration has a combined 36 chapters and affiliates throughout the state that provide direct services and supports to thousands of individuals and families. We are writing to request your help in addressing police use of excessive force against individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

On March 31, 2021 Isaias Cervantes, a young man with autism who is also hard of hearing, was shot and critically wounded by a LA County Sheriff Deputy in your districts. Isaias and his family are your constituents and they, along with every other constituent with disabilities, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of whether or not they are experiencing a personal or familial behavioral crisis. Detailed accounts of the shooting are sparse at this point as there is an active and on-going investigation; however, the underlying facts still remain that despite the deputies being told by Isaias sister that he is hard of hearing, has autism, and was in the midst of a behavioral crisis, the deputies responded with excessive and a near lethal use of force. The LA County Sheriff’s Department stated that this was a “very unique situation” and while that may be true there is absolutely no justification whereby shooting an unarmed man can be seen as a necessary or justifiable use of force.

In 2019 Assembly Bill 392 Peace Officers: Deadly Use of Force, and Senate Bill 230 Law Enforcement: Use of Force: Training and Polices, were signed into law as part of a Use of Force Reform sparked by the social unrest and protests that resulted from the shooting of Stephon Clark. Together those bills reformed police use of force policies and now the law requires that, among other things, use of deadly force be necessary, not merely reasonable, and that nonlethal alternatives be used first. How could it be necessary to shoot an unarmed man in the back? Moreover, the near fatal interaction was said to have taken place in a very short period of time – less than 5 minutes – what other nonlethal alternatives were attempted?

Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 5150 allows a peace officer, among other specified individuals, to take a person, upon probable cause, into custody and place them in a designated facility for mental health evaluation and treatment, as a result of a mental health disorder whereby the person is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. It is not uncommon for families or care providers to ask for this type of assistance when their loved one is experiencing a behavioral crisis as to ensure everyone’s safety. For the Cervantes family, what started out as a request for help to keep everyone safe ended in a near fatal interaction between a young man with disabilities and law enforcement. LA County Sheriff’s Department is no stranger to the 5150 process, given that they have a very active Mental Health Evaluation Team. Last year alone, they responded to 17,215 calls involving persons with a mental illness in crisis, of those calls, 10,470 were confirmed to be individuals with a mental illness or a developmental disability.

Fear of a law enforcement encounter going bad runs deep in the disability community as it is estimated that 30% -50% of all fatal law enforcement encounters involve a person with a disability. At the highest risk are African American males who have autism and are deaf. In fact, the legislative findings in AB 392 expressly state that individuals with physical, mental, intellectual, or developmental disabilities are significantly more likely to experience greater levels of physical force during police interactions, as their disability may affect their ability to understand or comply with peace officer commands. (Penal Code 835(a)(5)). Senate Bill 230 expressly states that the highest priority of California law enforcement is safeguarding the life, dignity, and liberty of all persons without prejudice to anyone. It further provides under Government Code 7286(b)(16) that each law enforcement agency shall, by no later than January 2, 2021, maintain a policy that provides a minimum standard on the use of force. Each agency’s policy shall include… (16) Training and guidelines regarding vulnerable populations, including, but not limited to, children, elderly persons, people who are pregnant, and people with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities.

The safety and lives of our loved ones with disabilities – intellectual, developmental, or other – cannot be reduced to mere words in a legislation. We cannot rely on “guidelines and training” because clearly, in all too many incidents, that has proven ineffective.  All the training in the world does not matter if push literally comes to shove, and the batons, tasers, and guns are the default response to a person in the midst of a behavioral crisis. In the wake of the shooting and killing of George Floyd, the California Legislature has taken on a deep and meaningful discussion about what police reform looks like – there is a new Select Committee on Police Reform, the Little Hoover Commission held hearings on Police Training, and there are several pieces of legislation pending – but disability, which is significantly different that mental health issues, is nearly non-existent in the conversation. It is well passed time to fully include the disability community in the conversation about how to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the disability community when it comes to challenging interactions. Our community is truly between a rock and a hard place because we rely on the police for help when our loved ones are lost, scared, hurt, or in crisis but underlying that need is the fear that anyone of those interactions could go bad and result in loss of life or trauma.

On behalf of all individuals with disabilities, their families, friends and service providers, we respectfully as that you both work with us to address the very specific issue of use of force in the disability community. Thank you for taking the time to read our letter and we look forward to further discussions with you.


Pat Hornbecker, President

The Arc of California

​Jordan Lindsey, Executive Director

The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration




Cc:Assembly Member Mike Gipson, Chair of Assembly Select Committee on Police Reform

Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Chair of Assembly Public Safety Committee

Senator Steven Bradford, Chair of Senate Public Safety Committee

1. LA County MET https://lasd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Transparency_MET_Annual_Recap_2020_012521.pdf

2. The Ruderman Family Foundation, White Paper on Media Coverage of Law Enforcement Use of Force and Disability. https://rudermanfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/MediaStudy-PoliceDisability_final-final.pdf

Unacceptable Police Shooting of Teenager with Autism: The Arc Calls for Transparent Investigation and Reform

Washington, D.C. – Yet another unnecessary police shooting of a person with a disability has occurred, this time in Salt Lake City, Utah, where 13-year-old Linden Cameron was shot by officers multiple times on Friday night while he was in crisis. His mother had called police for assistance when Linden, who has autism, was experiencing behaviors related to his disability likely due to a disruption in his routine. Linden needed an intervention but instead, police responding to the situation shot the teenager multiple times, causing significant injuries.“How this call for help escalated, and so quickly, into a tragic shooting of a 13-year-old is incomprehensible. A thorough, swift, and transparent investigation must be done for Linden, his family, and the community.

“No one should ever be hurt or killed by police because of who they are. But time and time again, interactions between police and marginalized communities, including people with disabilities, end in violence. According to research, almost half of people killed by police have some kind of disability. The Arc stands in solidarity with all communities that continue to face over-policing and mourn for those lost to police violence.

“To achieve the full participation of people with disabilities in their communities, we must demand recognition and respect for their human dignity, as well as understanding and acceptance of their differences. Whether the call goes to police, or another crisis intervention team, these are the fundamentals that must be ingrained in our society. We must develop systems that support individuals and families in these situations so that law enforcement is not called in. We have to change our response – not the person with the disability, or the person in crisis. In the meantime, I fear for millions of people like Linden who simply by being who they are, are at risk of tragic violence when they or a loved one call for help,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc is committed to learning from every instance of police violence against marginalized communities in order to advocate effectively for much-needed reform. The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) is key to this effort. NCCJD promotes safety, fairness, and justice for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially those with hidden disabilities and marginalized identities, as victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, and incarcerated persons. Without access to justice, individuals with disabilities will continue to be overrepresented in every part of the criminal legal system. Law enforcement must receive effective training to prepare them for situations involving interactions with people with disabilities. To address this critical issue, NCCJD created Pathways to Justice, a comprehensive, community-based program that improves access to justice by creating and building relationships between the disability and criminal justice communities.

This year The Arc of California co-sponsored AB 911 which would create an opt-in directory for individuals and families to provide law-enforcement with information – such as types of disability and mental health conditions – for an individual prior to law-enforcement’s interaction with that individual. Due to costs assigned to the bill the proposal was scaled back by the Legislature to require the Office of Emergency Services (OES) to complete a study to determine the feasibility of developing a statewide system that would enable all Californians to voluntarily provide vital health and safety information, with an encrypted connection, to be made available to all first responders in an emergency if a “911” call is placed

In 2018, sponsors of AB 911 also partnered with Assemblyman Jim Cooper, Chair of the California State Assembly’s Select Committee on Community and Law Enforcement Relations and Responsibilities, to convene a special hearing on the interactions of law enforcement and people with disabilities. The hearing included many practices across the state currently being used to mitigate tragic interactions. The video of that hearing can be viewed here.

To learn more about The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) please watch the video below:



California’s Disability Organizations Reply to Costco Shooting

November 14, 2019

Twenty-four California disability groups and over 140 Inland Empire residents are asking Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin to meet to review the DA’s decision not to charge the off-duty LA police officer who shot and killed Kenneth French, an unarmed man with disabilities, at a Costco in Corona.

Officer Salvador Sanchez fired 10 shots, hitting Kenneth French four times after Mr. French shoved Officer Sanchez while standing in line at the Costco. The officer also shot Mr. French’s parents, Russell and Paola French, as they tried to intervene and explain their son had a disability. Both parents required several surgeries.

“We want the family of Kenneth French to know they are not alone,” the disability community letter to DA Hesterin says.

“No member of the disability community should need to worry that shoving someone will be met with immediate shooting, especially by a trained police officer,” the letter continues.

Read the open letter to the DA here. The letter asked DA Hesterin to meet with the Inland Empire Developmental Disability Safety Task Force “to review the decision not to indict and to discuss how shootings might be prevented in the future.” It noted that the disability community has been a strong supporter of California law enforcement, “which plays a key role in protecting our most vulnerable members.”

The shooting death occurred June 14.

Contact: Beth Burt, Executive Director, Autism Society Inland Empire (951) 532-4462, bburt@ieautism.org


Read the letter to the DA below or view it as a PDF here.

Letter 1Letter 2Letter 3Letter 4Letter 5