Family disputes police report; Edinburg man died in police custody in 2017

Christopher Reyes

The last word Noreen Reyes heard her son say was “why?”

More than two years after 30-year-old Christopher Reyes died handcuffed, face down in the back of an Edinburg Police Department patrol vehicle, Noreen and the man’s widow, Brenda Tamez, are asking the same question.

Why?

Why did two police officers decide to handcuff the disoriented man, who had suffered a hallucination brought on by drug use, and put him face down in the back of a patrol car?

Why didn’t the officers let EMS take Christopher to the hospital to be treated for the episode by medical professionals, like Noreen and Brenda wanted?

Brenda and Noreen have since filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the department that The Monitor recently published a story about. That story included information taken from a custodial death report police submitted to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

That was the first time Christopher’s mother and widow said they heard about the report containing the department’s narrative of events leading up to Christopher’s death.

Now, more than two years later, they have yet another question.

Why did Edinburg police file what Noreen and Brenda call an inaccurate custodial death report to the Texas Attorney General’s Office?

Both women were present when Christopher died on June 18, 2017, after Edinburg police say in a report that they responded to “a male and female disturbance” at 801 Greenbriar Apartment No. 18.

Both Noreen and Brenda dispute that police were called to the apartment for a disturbance.

Noreen said she knows this because she is the one who told Brenda to call police. There’s a specific reason Noreen said that Brenda called police.

Three months prior to his death, Christopher suffered a hallucination related to drug use. Edinburg police responded and Christopher was taken to the hospital before spending a night in jail, and then being released without charges, according to Noreen.

After the episode, the man’s mother said he sought help for substance abuse at several rehabilitation centers and was placed on a wait list at one of them. Staff there told Noreen that if Christopher had another hallucination she should call police and EMS to have her son taken to the hospital to detoxify, she said, adding that by doing this her son could possibly be admitted into rehab quicker.

Noreen and Brenda showed The Monitor paperwork from the rehabilitation center verifying that Christopher sought treatment.

When police arrived at the apartment, they say in their report that Christopher “was lying on the sidewalk clothed with only boxer underwear, rolling side to side on his back and was yelling incoherently while swinging both arms into the air. Officers observed him to be combative, aggressive and experiencing hallucinations at which time they determined that he may be under the influence of an unknown type of narcotic.”

Christopher’s mother and widow said this isn’t true.

According to Noreen, Christopher was laying on the sidewalk in a daze and was not aware of what was happening. She says he was not yelling, adding the only word he said was “why.”

“They were trying to pull his arm out and I said, ‘Son, just go ahead and bring your arm forward,’ and he looked at the officer because they were standing over him and he said, ‘Why,’ and they said, ‘We’re going to handcuff you,’” Noreen said. “In no way did he resist bringing his arm forward for them.”

She said it’s true that Christopher “rolled” out of the apartment after having a hallucination and placed his arms in the air, but that all of this happened before police arrived at the apartment.

“At the arrival of the police officers, Christopher was laying on the sidewalk completely still, you know, no movement, just completely still, seeming unaware or dazed,” Noreen said.

Noreen and Brenda also said Christopher was not combative and aggressive when police arrived.

“I just want it completely clear that Christopher, upon the arrival of the police officers, was lying completely still, was not combative, unaggressive, verbally or physically, just lying still on his back, seemingly unaware of what was going on at the point, simply needing the medical attention for what we believed was a hallucination,” Noreen said, adding that police denied him the medical attention.

In the report, police say Christopher was “hallucinating that he was fighting three (3) men as he commenced to strike himself on the face and throw himself against the walls.”

This is just not true, Noreen said.

“It never happened, utterly ridiculous,” she said

The police also say in the report that Christopher was trying to grab the officers’ feet and began yelling at them to shoot him.

Again, Noreen says that didn’t happen. Christopher never grabbed at the officers and never yelled anything suicidal, Noreen said, emphasizing that all her son said when police arrived was “why?”

“It is absolutely untrue that Christopher ever reached for an officer, or anyone else,” she said. “From the point of their arrival he was on his back until he was up to walk to the police vehicle. He walked of his own freewill. He walked. He wasn’t pushed. He wasn’t forced. He walked as he was told to do.”

But police say in the report that he resisted arrest.

“Officers proceeded to engage him and place him in handcuffs for his safety, at which time he resisted arrest,” the report stated. “Officers used minimal force necessary to effect the arrest and escorted him to the backseat of a marked police unit pending transport to a medical facility.”

Both Brenda and Noreen adamantly deny Christopher resisted arrest and say that the police officers on scene told them that he was going to jail, not to a medical facility. They didn’t even find out that he was going to be charged with resisting arrest until The Monitor story about their lawsuit that included that detail from the custodial death report.

“The female officer asked me what they were called for and I let her know to get him to a hospital and she never gave me a response. She simply let me know he was going to be taken to PD when I asked why, I got no response,” Noreen said. “I informed them it was for the medical center. I, there in person, let her know and she made it very clear to me that she was taking him to PD. She was fully aware of the rehabilitation advising me. She was fully aware of the previous time because I explained it to her, briefly, but I explained it to her.”

After placing Christopher face down in the back of the patrol vehicle, the report states that Reyes “was yelling out threats to his wife and kicking the back door.”

Noreen and Brenda told The Monitor that when he was in the vehicle when the door was closed they could not hear what Christopher was saying in the back of the patrol vehicle and that they believed he was kicking the door and yelling because he needed help and was having difficulty breathing.

At this time, according to Noreen, one of the officers asked one of the medics on scene whether they wanted to take the man in the state that he was in, and the medic told the officer that he would indeed take the man to the hospital if one of the officers accompanied them. The officer then said Christopher was going to jail and EMS left, Noreen and Brenda said.

“They didn’t leave immediately. EMS stood there with me for a couple of minutes and what I believe was in hopes that they would maybe allow Christopher to leave with them. Of course, that’s just my perception. I don’t understand what other reason the paramedic would have to stand there with me if they already told him they were taking him to PD,” she said.

The mother and widow do, however, agree with police that after the kicking stopped, Christopher was suddenly quiet.

When police pulled him out, they say he was “purple in color” and “not responsive” after being found with his upper half wedged between the backseat and driver side and his bottom half on top of the right side seat.

“Officers began chest compressions after confirming that he was no longer breathing,” the report stated.

Noreen calls that a lie. She said police never attempted life saving measures on her son and simply kept her away from her child and called EMS back to the scene.

“I attempted to go to my son since I had seen they weren’t performing CPR. I was trying to get to him to attempt to perform CPR. And I was stopped by the female officer and I was very clearly telling her he needed help,” she said. “And she wouldn’t allow me to go to him.”

Christopher’s certified death certificate, which was viewed by The Monitor, stated he died from cocaine toxicity associated with increased physical stress and restraint with restricted body position.

Noreen said a more in depth report also lists mechanical asphyxiation as a cause of death.

The Edinburg Police Department previously declined to comment on the incident, citing the litigation.

But for Christopher’s family, this is all about seeking justice.

“All that the officers are saying and reporting about Christopher from their arrival time is all being said to justify an injustice, to justify their wrongdoing,” Noreen said.

An initial hearing in the case is scheduled for January.

mreagan@themonitor.com