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He Checked Into a UCLA Hospital While Suffering From a Mental Illness, and a Sheriff Shot at Him Nine Times While Trying To Use the Restroom

4:47 PM PST on November 16, 2020

Jordon’s Tire Shop (Photo by Lexis-Olivier Ray)

[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]enjamin Burgos got the call in mid-October just before heading off to Vegas for his daughter’s birthday. His brother Nick Burgos, 38, had been shot by a Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy at a UCLA hospital in Torrance and was in critical condition. The news didn’t reach the family until a week after Nick was shot. “We thought he was going to stay there for three weeks to get help, and then he was going to get released. But it didn’t happen like that,” Benjamin told L.A. Taco on November 15, while standing in the bright mid-afternoon sun outside of Jordon’s Tires on Vernon Avenue as tears balled up in his eye sockets but never hit his cheeks.

On October 7, the sheriff’s department released a statement alleging that deputies working security detail at Harbor-UCLA Medical were alerted to a “disruptive patient.” Benjamin found out from hospital staff that reached out to him weeks after Nick was shot to explain what happened from their perspective. The hospital staff told Benjamin that Nick left his room because he wanted to use the restroom. When Nick was denied bathroom access, he got “aggressive.” Benjamin told L.A. Taco that Nick’s medication impacted his mood and sometimes caused him to hallucinate. “He would act like a kid [when he took his medicine], would play with toys, and watch TV when the TV was off and would laugh at the TV, so when he didn’t take his medicine, he was actually more calm.”

Since he had an IV inserted in his arm, Nick was dragging an IV pole behind him as he attempted to use the bathroom. “I guess the cop felt threatened that he had a metal piping. The doctors around [the deputy] and the nurses were telling them, 'We have a protocol. You’re not allowed to shoot, don’t engage, our team is coming up here, like five minutes, we’re on the 4th floor they’re on the first floor.'” Benjamin told L.A. Taco that a female deputy shot Nick nine times. According to the sheriff’s department, Nick was hit seven times. He was the second person to be shot at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in less than six years.

“A hospital is supposed to be your safe zone,” Benjamin said. According to him, Nick pleaded for help before admitting himself into the UCLA hospital, “He was like ‘you guys don’t understand what I’m going through, I need help I need to go to the hospital.’” Nick was at Harbor-UCLA Medical for several weeks before he was shot. “It’s not like they didn’t know who he was,” Benjamin said.

“My mom was like ‘No, I brought him in walking, I at least want to take him out in a wheelchair.’”

Nick was handcuffed after being shot and reportedly remained on the ground for over 15 minutes while an ambulance was called. “He was in the hospital surrounded by nurses and doctors, and they said that the sheriff’s department wasn't letting nobody come in to attend to him,” Benjamin said. Later Nick was transferred to the emergency unit downstairs. According to the sheriff's department no body-worn cameras or security camera footage recorded the shooting.

Benjamin Burgos by Lexis-Olivier Ray

Due to COVID-19, Benjamin wasn’t able to see his brother for over a week, ”My mom was the one that was able to visit.” According to Benjamin, the information that his mom received was primarily in English, “My mom doesn’t speak English well, though, she doesn’t understand it well.” Benjamin says the language barrier led his mom to sign documents that she didn’t fully comprehend. “She would sign whatever they asked her to sign, and she would do whatever they asked her to do.”

Since Nick “wasn’t the victim of a crime,” the county denied their request for a victim of crime grant to help cover burial cost.

Meanwhile, Benjamin says that Nick’s body deteriorated. One of his legs developed mold on it and was amputated, and he went through over ten surgeries in less than a month. When Benjamin finally saw his brother, he was on life support but still reportedly making hand movements and gestures. “When I first went to go see him, they had him open; I’ve never seen anything like that. They just had a plastic cover over him with a blanket. So I removed the blanket, and you could actually see his whole inside. He didn’t have anything. It was like a horror movie.” 

“We kept arguing with them about letting someone that understands English [accompany] my mom, someone that understands what’s going on.” According to Benjamin, hospital staff urged his mother to take Nick off life support, “My mom was like ‘No, I brought him in walking, I at least want to take him out in a wheelchair.’” On November 1, Nick was pronounced dead, according to the L.A. County Medical Examiner-Coroner records.

On Sunday November 15, 2020 the family of Nick Burgos held a carwash at Jordon's Tire Shop on Vernon Avenue. Photo by Lexis-Olivier Ray

On November 15, a couple of Nick’s family members held a car wash to raise money for funeral expenses. Benjamin estimated that it would cost between $20,000 and $30,000 when all is said and done to bury his brother. Since Nick “wasn’t the victim of a crime,” the county denied their request for a victim of crime grant to help cover burial costs.

‘We Would Always Get Harassed’

Benjamin and his four siblings grew up down the street from the tire shop near Vernon Avenue and Compton Boulevard. Growing up in South L.A., Benjamin says he was regularly put in handcuffs, beaten up, and harassed by law enforcement. “One time, I got pulled over, and they thought I had some type of drug in my mouth, and they stuck a pen in my mouth to try and force me to throw up.” 

After being incarcerated, Benjamin turned his life around and began working with a non-profit that helped at-risk teens build their careers and find employment. “I like working with young kids because I was a troubled teen when I was growing up,” after spending four years in jail, Benjamin had enough. Until February, he worked with the City of Long Beach cleaning streets and doing graffiti removal, but due to COVID-19, he lost his job.

While searching tirelessly for another full-time job opportunity, Benjamin is focused on his 13-year long passion for breeding dogs. The income he earns selling French bulldogs and the community he’s fostered through breeding has kept him afloat during the pandemic. “Mostly all my friends that have been donating and helping me out are the guys with dog breeding businesses, we all support each other, we all try to buy from each other, and we all try to help each other out as much as we can,” Benjamin said on Sunday.

Benjamin has family members that own car washes and mechanic shops that could have offered the family space to grieve and raise money, but they didn’t, “you get to see who's on your side and who’s not,” Benjamin told L.A. Taco.

The dog breeding community has stepped in to offer their support when others haven’t. Benjamin doesn’t have a family that he can rely on to help him through this difficult time. While hundreds of people have donated money to the family’s GoFundMe page to help cover funeral expenses and reached out to express their condolences, it’s been difficult to rally people together.

Car wash for Nick Burgos on November 15, 2020 by Lexis-Olivier Ray

On Sunday, Benjamin helped organize a car wash at a tire shop on Vernon Avenue down the street from where he grew up but other than close family, nobody showed up. Benjamin has family members that own car washes and mechanic shops that could have offered the family space to grieve and raise money, but they didn’t, “you get to see who's on your side and who’s not,” Benjamin told L.A. Taco.

Sara Cervantes, Nick’s sister-in-law, helped organize two events over the weekend to raise money for Nick’s funeral. Earlier this year, Cervantes' cousin, Victor Valencia, was killed by LAPD officers near Culver City, after police mistook a bicycle part that Valencia was holding for a gun. Both Valencia and Nick struggled with mental health as well as substance abuse issues. 

A church across the street from Jordon's Tire Shop by Lexis-Olivier Ray

Nick died just days before Los Angeles voters supported a groundbreaking wave of reform measures and progressive candidates, following a summer of civil unrest. Voters passed Measure J, a ballot measure that moves revenue away from policing towards alternative forms of incarceration and community investment. District Attorney-elect George Gascón has said he will be tougher on cops and increase transparency to eliminate the conflicts of interest that exist when law enforcement investigates itself. And Holly Mitchell defeated Herb Wesson by a landslide to represent the 2nd district. For the first time in its history, the Board of Supervisors will be comprised of all women.

FWN is petitioning for the county to terminate its hospital contracts with the sheriff’s department and commit county resources to providers who can “respond to patient crises in safe and dignified ways.”

In a statement released to L.A. Taco from Frontline Wellness Network (FWN), an organization seeking to end the public health crisis of criminalization, organizer Jeremy Levenson called the shooting of Nick Burgos “another devastating and very preventable result of the county’s failure to build the infrastructure to protect its community members from its County Sheriff and to provide care.” 

FWN is petitioning for the county to terminate its hospital contracts with the sheriff’s department and commit county resources to providers who can “respond to patient crises in safe and dignified ways.” Also involved with school divesting from law enforcement, the UCLA Divest/Invest Faculty Collective–a student and faculty coalition formed after UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium was used as a detention center this summersaid in a statement, “patients experiencing mental health distress being met with attempted murder in the halls of a UCLA hospital is the opposite of safety and care.”

Last week, Los Angeles Community College announced that it would seek a new security contract after failing to reach a deal with the sheriff’s department, the Los Angeles Daily News reports, proving that schools can divest from law enforcement.

In their statement, the UCLA faculty collective said: “We are at yet another flashpoint in this nation's history where we must ask ourselves, what does true safety look like for our communities and us? What does care truly look like?”

Jordon's Tire Shop (Photo by Lexis-Olivier Ray)
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