On December 12, 73-year-old dementia sufferer Francisco Serna left his home in Bakersfield, California, for a late-night stroll. Minutes later, he was confronted by police and shot seven times. Serna died on the scene.
According to reports, police went to Serna’s neighborhood to investigate resident claims of an armed man wandering the streets. When they arrived, Serna approached the officers with his hand in his jacket pocket. Confused and shaken, he ignored police demands to stop walking and raise his hands.
Clearly, Serna was unable to cope with the situation due to his dementia, but what happened next was simply unthinkable. Rather than reaching for a taser or handcuffs, Officer Selma fired seven rounds into the grandfather, killing him instantly.
Now, Serna’s family is searching for answers. Why did their beloved husband, father, and grandfather have to die so senselessly?
In a press conference on Tuesday, Assistant Police Chief Lyle Martin claimed that the officers thought Serna was armed when shots were fired. He also said there was no way they could have known Serna had dementia. In his own words, “It’s kind of hard to address that in 20 seconds.”
In addition to being a loving father to his son, Roy, Serna was also a grandfather and great-grandfather. Sadly, he’s now one of nearly 400 mentally-ill individuals murdered by police this year.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, nearly half of police shootings from 1980 to 2008 involved a mentally-ill person. Often, their own families call 9-1-1 for help diffusing a suicidal or violent situation. Despite these startling statistics, there have been no changes in police training or response to the mentally-ill.
After the senseless act of violence, Roy took to Facebook to share his grief. He said, “This was the last thing my dad was forced to leave me. No, not a hug, not a last goodbye…just a drop of his blood. That was a just a smear for them to wash away the mess that was left behind.”
Serna’s story is heartbreaking, but it’s one that’s becoming all too familiar in the United States. Until law enforcement makes nationwide changes to stop the criminalization of mental illness, these types of tragedies will continue to happen.
Officer Selma has been put on administrative leave until the case can be fully investigated. As of yet, it’s unknown whether or not he’ll be allowed to return to duty.