Police shot and nearly killed Raul de la Cruz during a mental health crisis. 1 year later he’s suing.

Santo de la Cruz called 311 on March 26, 2023 to get medical care for his son who had schizophrenia.

Instead, he watched as two NYPD officers arrived and shot Raul de la Cruz seven times. The 42-year-old narrowly survived. After being in the ICU for several weeks, he was left physically disabled and mentally traumatized.

On Tuesday — the one-year anniversary of the shooting — Raul de la Cruz sued the city, NYPD leaders and the police officers who shot him.

The suit, which has not been previously reported, was filed in Manhattan federal court. It alleges that sending police to address mental health crises is unlawful because it leaves people with mental disabilities without equal access to the city’s emergency response programs. It also demands an injunction to prohibit the city from “continuing to enforce its current police-run mental health crisis response policy.”

A year and one day to the date of Raul de la Cruz’s shooting, police shot and killed a teenager who had called 911 on himself while in a “mental crisis,” police said. New Yorkers with mental illness and advocates have called for reforms around how the city responds to mental crisis calls.

Raul de la Cruz was diagnosed with schizophrenia about six years ago. His mother had also been diagnosed, according to the lawsuit. His lawyers claim that despite pleas from the family, police responding to the call mishandled the situation and it escalated into bloodshed.

In response to questions about the shooting, a police spokesperson said recruits are taught about mental illness, how to recognize it, how to communicate effectively and “proper tactics” for dealing with a situation. The NYPD did not reply to an inquiry about the lawsuit

“Even before the police arrived, I believed the police were going to arrest me and torture me,” Raul de la Cruz wrote to Gothamist this week. “It would have helped if someone came who wasn’t the police – someone who could have helped me with my mental health problem … I’m not violent. I was not angry. I was scared.”

His family emigrated from the Dominican Republic when he was 29. His formal education ended after the fifth grade, and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 39, according to the lawsuit. He is now 44.

Last March, he was visiting his dad in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. The elder de la Cruz, a fruit vendor on Grand Concourse, said he grew worried about his son’s mental state.

At around 9:45 a.m. on March 26, 2023, Santo de la Cruz called 311 to get psychiatric care for his son after he began to look distressed. Speaking to an interpreter in Spanish, he explained that Raul felt like “the white man” — police — were persecuting him, according to the lawsuit. He specifically asked the dispatcher not to send police, but instead for medical providers who could treat his son before something went awry as he had a kitchen knife.

The 311 call was immediately designated as an “assault in progress” by an “emotionally disturbed person with a weapon” and the NYPD was dispatched, according to internal police logs obtained by Gothamist. The 911 operator noted that Raul was “violent” and “carrying a knife.”

“Neither 311 nor 911 operators dispatched a mental health crisis team to assist,” the lawsuit stated.

At 10:07 a.m., two officers arrived to find Santo de la Cruz standing outside the apartment building while still on the phone. His son was inside.

In police body-worn camera footage published by the NYPD, the video is muted for the first minute before the camera is activated. Then, officer Derek Bernard is heard asking Santo de la Cruz if his son has a knife. The father, who does not speak English, could not understand.

“Who is he to you?” Bernard asked before several more exchanges where police tried to determine what was happening.

“Spanish?” Bernard said.

“Si, español,” Raul de la Cruz, who also does not speak English, replied.

“Stay there for me, alright?” Bernard said.

“Como?” Raul de la Cruz asked, not understanding the prompt.

Neither officer spoke Spanish. Bernard shook his hands in the air and said, “manos,” or “hands” in Spanish.

Raul de la Cruz then appears to ask Bernard how many officers are coming. He pulls a knife out of his jacket pocket. His father rushes toward him, trying to deescalate the increasingly chaotic interaction. He is seen in the video trying to swat the knife from his son’s grip, while still on the phone with the operator.

Meanwhile, both officers point their guns at and yell “drop the knife” repeatedly.

Raul de la Cruz began to walk quickly toward the officers, still holding the knife. Officer Nicholas Trupia shot at him five times and Bernard shot twice, according to the NYPD. Raul de la Cruz fell to the ground, lying on his side.

The entire event lasted 28 seconds.

“After they finally stopped shooting Mr. de la Cruz, [the officers] handcuffed him while he laid unconscious on the ground,” the lawsuit states. “Santo de la Cruz believed that his son was dead.”

In a news conference that afternoon, NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell said Santo de la Cruz called 911 for help that day. It wasn’t until the next morning that Gothamist learned he called 311 seeking medical care.

“I was worried something like this could happen,” he told Gothamist that day in Spanish. “That’s why I called 311 … I didn’t go asking for help just for him to get killed.”

Bernard joined the NYPD in 2012, according to police records. Trupia, who shot at Raul de la Cruz five times, had been on the force for less than two years, per the same records.

Bernard and Trupia received the NYPD’s training for responding to people in crisis, according to police records.

When Santo de la Cruz went to St. Barnabas hospital to see his son after the shooting, he said police turned him away. Raul de la Cruz was under arrest while in the ICU. A hospital clerk told Gothamist that the NYPD controlled who entered and exited the hospital room.

Santo, then 67, was told by phone that his son “had a 10% chance of survival” and wouldn’t make it through the night. Marinda van Dalen, a lawyer with the nonprofit New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, stepped in to represent Santo and secure his rights to visit his son.

Throughout a five-week stint in the hospital, doctors removed one of Raul’s kidneys, “he suffered perforated intestines … completely lost his spleen,” among other injuries, according to the lawsuit. A bullet also ripped through his leg.

As a result of having one kidney and part of his pancreas removed, he now has diabetes, according to the lawsuit. He walks with a cane.

In the weeks after the shooting, family and friends protested outside the NYPD 52nd precinct, demanding the names of the officer who shot Raul de la Cruz, which police had been withholding.

Victor, his brother, held a sign in Spanish that read “Who will protect us from the police?

The NYPD on April 4, 2023 denied Gothamist’s freedom of information law requests for body-worn camera footage, audio recordings of Santo’s 311 call and dispatch records between 311 and 911 — claiming that releasing the information would interfere with their investigation. They also denied requests from van Dalen, Raul’s lawyer, for the body-worn camera footage.

Nine months after the shooting, the NYPD published the footage on YouTube. They did not send it to Raul’s family or lawyer.

The NYPD responds to about 15,000 mental health emergency calls every month, according to city data. For most New Yorkers and their loved ones, 911 is the entry-point for getting care in a mental health crisis.

B-HEARD, the city’s non-police pilot program for mental health crisis calls, handles just a fraction of these calls. There are a total of 37 B-HEARD mental health workers.

Most New Yorkers put in Raul de la Cruz’s position do not survive.

On Wednesday, almost exactly a year after Raul de la Cruz was shot, Win Rozario was standing in the kitchen with his mother when police say he himself called 911 in mental distress. Officers arrived at their second-floor home in Ozone Park, Queens.

The teen pulled a pair of neon green scissors out of a drawer and officers Tased him, according to an NYPD account of the event. Rozario’s mother then rushed to hold her son and “accidentally knocked the Tasers out of his body,” police officials said. The teen picked up the scissors again and “came at” police, NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell said. The officers shot and killed him.

“It’s heartbreaking that just as Mr. de la Cruz asks the courts for justice, yet another New Yorker has been shot by the police while experiencing a mental health crisis,” van Dalen, Raul’s lawyer, wrote in a statement to Gothamist. “New York City must transform its response system. Non-police response teams save lives, de-escalating dangerous systems by providing people with the help they need.”

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