HALF MOON BAY, CA — A family was crushed and a community is outraged after a call for help turned into a hasty death sentence for a disgruntled teenage girl with special needs.
On June 3rd, 2014, the Serrano family was having difficulty with a young female family member who suffers from a mental illness and depression. Yanira Serrano-Garcia, 18, had apparently gone off of her medication and became agitated and hard to control.
During past episodes, the Serrano family had called medical personnel to help them control Yanira. That Tuesday evening, they called the fired department for help once again. This time, however, police officers arrived instead of paramedics.
The family had instructed the dispatcher that the girl was acting erratically and wouldn’t put down a kitchen knife. San Mateo County deputies responded to the scene expecting to confront an armed suspect.
Deputy Mehn Trieu was among the first responders to the housing complex at roughly 9:23 p.m. Trieu exited his vehicle and found Yanira outside. Within 20 seconds of arriving, he determined she was a threat and opened fire, confirmed department spokeswoman Deputy Rebecca Rosenblatt.
Trieu, a 9-year-veteran, claimed that he feared for his life and had to shoot the “knife wielding woman” nearly immediately after arriving. A family friend, however, described the object she was holding as a “butter knife.”
Yanira was struck and killed. No one else was injured. Deputy Mehn Trieu was put on paid administrative leave.
The shooting sparked outrage across the community. Yanira’s friends and family described her as having “special needs” and that police officers may not have the training to deal with people with health issues such as hers.
“[Yanira] wanted to be normal. She wanted to stop taking her medication, and I get it. Sometimes when my feet hurt I just want to be normal. I don’t want to take pills. I get her…all we want is justice,” said a friend of Yanira’s during a community march. “Sadly, they mistook her for something she didn’t do, and a cop decided to get his gun out when he could have gotten out his taser, his pepper spray,” she said.
“I feel bad for her for what happened,” said Saul Miramontes, Yanira’s cousin. “I don’t know why this officer couldn’t understand what was going on through her life, or could have done at least something better than try to take her life away, you know?”
“She has special needs and we just want answers,” said Yanira’s brother, Tiny Serrano. “Who are we supposed to call now when we need help when who is supposed to help us is killing our kids?”
This incident represents yet another example of how calling the government to intentionally confront family members, particularly those with mental illness, often ends in unnecessary tragedy and death. It may prove wiser to find other ways to deal with such situations, avoiding the unnecessary introduction of armed strangers who are trained to use violence to eliminate any perceived threats — real or imagined.