The March death of a Scott man who died nearly a week after being arrested has been ruled a homicide, which his family says is news to them.
“They said that he initially died of brain damage due to his (drug) use,” said Catherine Cortez, who admits her son, Robert Minjarez Jr., was addicted to cocaine.
The forensics report indicates Minjarez’s cause of death was “compressional asphyxia due to face-down physical restraint by law enforcement officers with contribution of rhabdomyolysis and cocaine toxicity.”
One day before the run-in with police, the coroner reports Minjarez left an emergency room against medical advice where he was treated for Rhabdomyolysis, or muscle breakdown.
It all began on March 2, when officers with the Scott and Carencro Police Departments, as well as deputies with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, were called to the Texaco Gas Station on Pont Des Mouton Road and University Avenue in Lafayette. According to the coroner’s report, the clerk called police to report Minjarez was standing outside the door hallucinating.
The report indicates that surveillance video shows he was cuffed, both his hands and legs, and then pinned to the ground. Three or four officers were shown on top of Minjarez in the surveillance video. One officer was on his legs, one on his hips and two on Minjarez’ back. In the audio, Minjarez can reportedly be heard saying he cannot breathe and begging for help.
“Help, help, help me get them off. You are going to kill me,” Cortez said while reading off the forensics report about her son. “You are going to suffocate me, I can’t breathe, he said three times.”
Minjarez was taken to a hospital. Six days later he was dead.
The Lafayette Parish Coroner has classified the death as a homicide, but chief investigator Keith Talamo cautions that has no interpretation of any criminal law.
“Homicide as used in this report is defined by the National Association of Medical Examiners as death at the hands of another,” said Talamo. “In such case, there may not be intent to kill, but the death results from one or more intentional, volitional, potentially harmful acts directed at the decedents.”
Minjarez had never been arrested for drug use, but his mother says he was addicted to cocaine. She also says Scott Police knew her son by name.
Mijarez had a criminal record dating back to 2004, and was arrested for things like domestic abuse, disturbing the peace, obsenity and resisting arrest.
“They had dealt with him before, they would come to the house and they would talk to him rather than using force,” said Cortez.
Minjarez left behind two children and was an organ donor. Cortez says she gets cards from those who say their lives were saved because of her son.
“This was my son. My question to them is if this was their son, what would they do? How would they handle it? What would they do?” Cortez asked.
It’s unclear which officers were involved in arresting Minjarez.
“No officers are on leave or suspended as a result of this incident,” said Capt. Craig Stansbury with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The Scott Police Department declined comment.
Louisiana State Police is in the preliminary stages of the investigation and troopers could not comment.