Family of man with mental health issues calls 911 for ambulance, but police arrive instead

Lorenzo Sanchez hospitalized after police consider him to be threat

A South Florida family said its emergency call for help turned into a nightmare with officers' weapons drawn.

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – A South Florida family said its emergency call for help turned into a nightmare with officers' weapons drawn. Police said their officers were trained specifically to help individuals with mental health issues but, according to the family, the situation should have been handled differently. 

It started as a 911 call for an ambulance to a home in Coral Springs. The family of Lorenzo Sanchez, 31, said he's suffered from schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder since he was 17. 

According to the police report, on July 3 he was having an episode and his family was concerned he might hurt himself or that he had overdosed on prescription medication. Sanchez and his family agreed he should go to the hospital. 

According to the 911 call, Sanchez's sister asked for an ambulance, saying her brother wasn't feeling well. She said he might need to be detoxed and told the dispatcher she wasn't sure if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

According to the police report, officers arrived at the home ahead of paramedics. Officers said they were warned of a safety alert on the home due to a call 12 years ago when Lorenzo Sanchez was hospitalized under the Baker Act for allegedly threatening to kill his family. The family told Local 10 News that threat never happened. 

Lorenzo Sanchez was hospitalized under the Baker Act.

They said the incident, in 2007, involved Sanchez trying to take his own life by taking sleeping pills. 
Carlos Sanchez said they had no idea their residence was flagged as a danger to law enforcement. 
If they had known, he said, they would never have called 911. 

Video from a camera at the home showed Sanchez's sister answer the door, confused to see officers instead of paramedics. What happened next is in dispute. Officers said they found Sanchez in the bedroom in an agitated state and claim his sister told them he was detoxing off the street drug flakka. 

According to family members, no one mentioned flakka and toxicology results later showed none in Sanchez's system. 

The police report said Sanchez quickly became violent with officers, who had to try to restrain him. The family said Sanchez, who was suffering a mental health episode, only became frightened when officers became aggressive. 

"We called for help, called for an ambulance," Carlos Sanchez said. "And the next thing you know, there's six officers on top of your brother, beating him down, choking him."

Carlos Sanchez he would have never called 911 if he thought his brother would be flagged as a danger to law enforcement.

He said he managed to record cellphone video after police forced him out of the room. 

In the video, several officers are seen surrounding Sanchez as family members scream at him to relax. Officers said that, in an effort to get him to comply with their arrest, they used open and closed fist hits, followed by baton strikes and finally shocked him with a stun gun several times. 

"When they tased him, to hear him scream. They tased him more than once. It was just so crazy -- makes no sense," Carlos Sanchez said. 

In court documents, one officer claimed he thought he had seen a gun, but he never mentioned it to other cops or family members.

Carlos Sanchez said the next day someone from the Coral Springs Police Department called to ask if they had guns in the home. 

"'Does your brother own a weapon?' No, he's never owned a weapon," Carols Sanchez recalled. "'Is there a weapon in the house?' I was, like, 'No. Honestly, officer, why are you asking me this?'" 

Lorenzo Sanchez was hospitalized for three days for treatment of injuries from the incident. He's now facing felony charges connected to his arrest. 

Lorenzo Sanchez was hospitalized for three days after the incident.

After the arrest, the city of Coral Springs petitioned for a risk protection order against Lorenzo Sanchez, saying he posed a danger to himself or others. A judge ruled against the city, determining there was not enough evidence to flag him. 

Attorney Gustavo Frances, who is representing the family, said the response from law enforcement officers was excessive. 

"Nobody called and said, 'Mr. Sanchez is dangerous. Mr. Sanchez is hurting people.' They said, 'He needs medical attention.' And instead of getting medical attention, they send 15 officers," Frances said. 

Dr. Daniel Bober, a psychiatrist, who has not treated Sanchez, said it's important to remember people with his condition see things through a different lens. 

"People with schizophrenia and any type of psychotic disorders have a different perception of the world," Bober said. 

He said he often advises his patients and their families to avoid calling 911 unless absolutely necessary. 

"Whenever you call the police, you've now turned this into a law enforcement situation, and they may not deal with it the way you would deal with it," Bober said.

Lorenzo Sanchez has been at a mental health facility getting treatment since the arrest and has not yet been allowed to return home. He said he is still dealing with a shoulder injury from the altercation with officers and struggles to speak about what happened. 

"The whole incident, I was afraid for my life. I was very fearful," he said. "I've never been arrested for anything in my life."

"I've never been arrested for anything in my life," Lorenzo Sanchez says.

Coral Springs police said no one from the family has contacted them about filing a complaint or looking into the incident. 

The family and its attorney said their first priority is fighting the criminal charges against Lorenzo Sanchez, but an official complaint will follow. 

A representative from the Coral Springs Police Department told Local 10 that, based on videos and information provided regarding the arrest, the department did not see any evidence of officers acting improperly. 

He said the department strives to provide the best service to residents and encouraged anyone with concerns to come forward.  

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.