Seeking information on the death of a Modesto man early this month after a fight with deputies, a family has filed a claim against Stanislaus County and the Sheriff's Department, its attorney says.
Alejandro Sanchez, 38, died at a hospital May 5 after the altercation in the parking lot of a truck stop in the 1200 block of South Seventh Street in Modesto about 10:30 a.m. that day.
"Sanchez was transported to a Modesto area hospital by a deputy for medical clearance, and during the transportation process, he became unresponsive," the Sheriff's Department said in a news release May 7. It did not indicate if the trip to the hospital was by ambulance or patrol vehicle. "Hospital staff provided emergency medical care, but Sanchez died a short time later."
Sanchez flagged down two deputies to report something was wrong with his truck, which was in the truck stop's parking lot. The deputies learned the vehicle was not registered and told Sanchez he would be cited. He got upset, the Sheriff's Department reported, and began fighting with the deputies.
As to what happened next, the department has said only, "Several other deputies responded to assist, and Sanchez was taken into custody." The May 7 news release — the latest the department has said anything on the incident — said, "The details of the interaction between Sanchez and the deputies are not being released as the investigation is still ongoing. The cause of death will be determined during the autopsy."
A May 17 letter by attorney Mark E. Merin to Sheriff Adam Christianson on behalf of Sanchez's mother, Bertha Sanchez, says she has tried without success to learn what happened that led to her son's death. It asks the department to release reports from the deputies involved, witness statements, the coroner's report and autopsy results, toxicology reports and any video and audio recordings.
"For your information," Merin's letter says, "Mr. Sanchez was on his cell phone with his fiancee during the time of the confrontation and his chilling cries for help go on for a full ten minutes."
A copy of the letter was sent to The Modesto Bee, along with a copy of the claim by Sanchez's mother; his sister, Irene Mamourieh; and his fiancee, Jessica Humphrey. An included declaration of service says copies of the claim were mailed to the county Board of Supervisors and Christianson on May 17.
A request from The Bee to the Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office, seeking additional information on the May 5 altercation and the status of the investigations into it, was emailed before 8 a.m. Friday. DA's Office spokesman John Goold said no information was available for release. "This case just occurred at the beginning of May. To my knowledge, the investigation is not yet completed."
The claim says Sanchez's family believes unnecessary and excessive force was used by deputies "with reckless disregard or deliberate indifference" to his civil rights. It says those who used the force and those deputies who were present but failed to intervene are responsible for Sanchez's death.
It says the county, the Sheriff's Department and the sheriff are responsible because of either a lack of proper training, pursuant to policy, or a lack of policy.