Jaime Naranjo’s family asked Sacramento sheriff’s deputies for help. He got bullets instead

Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com

Jaime Naranjo was a husband, a father to three daughters, a grandfather to 10 children, a South Sacramento homeowner, an employer and a friend. On Sept. 28, he was also suffering from an apparent mental break, experiencing delusions, suicidal thoughts and exhaustion, and threatening to use a machete to end his own life.

His wife, Elisa Dehar Naranjo, called 911 to get him help.

What Jaime Naranjo got instead were bullets.

Opinion

As he bled out on his front lawn — with the screams of his wife and mother echoing through the neighborhood — the Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy who shot Jaime within a minute after arriving cruelly slapped handcuffs on the dying man, according to his family.

“I called for help, and the help I got was that they murdered my husband,” Elisa said during a press conference Tuesday.

A crisis counselor showed up the next day and offered her services to the family. But Jaime Naranjo, the man who needed such care and training, was already dead.

Sheriff’s Office officials bragged to county supervisors about their less-lethal equipment and “extensive” deescalation training the day before Naranjo was killed by a deputy. They did so to justify the county’s purchase of decommissioned U.S. military equipment for the department, including armored vehicles, high-powered rifles and ammunition, and a Humvee decked out with a gaming unit so they can “potentially recruit future generations to the profession.” At the same time, they blame underfunding and understaffing for their mistakes.

The Sheriff’s Office’s claims to supervisors were a morbid farce. This is what Sheriff Scott Jones’ 12-year reign has wrought.

People with untreated severe mental illness are disproportionately involved in at least 1 in 4 fatal police shootings despite accounting for just 1 in 50 U.S. adults. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement.

Jamie Naranjo and his family did exactly what they were supposed to do by calling for help. They never received any. Instead, they got death and handcuffs.

There is a historical lack of accountability within the Sacramento sheriff’s department and from the supervisors who should be overseeing the agency.

Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services officials are developing a Wellness Crisis Call Center and Response Program, which will deploy a non-law-enforcement response to mental health crisis calls. But the program’s start date has been delayed until at least November, with officials citing staffing challenges and equipment delays.

Elisa Naranjo had the misfortune to call for help before 9 a.m., when the county’s Mobile Crisis Support Team dispatch hours begin. The team offers the only non-law-enforcement response to mental health crises in Sacramento County, and yet it was not deployed that morning because its hours of operation are finite and vary from day to day.

The county’s bureaucracy and delays may have cost Jaime Naranjo his life. They may have cost Elisa Naranjo her husband, his three daughters their father and a community one of its irreplaceable members.

And while we know Jaime’s name — and his family will try to make sure we never forget it — we still don’t know the name of the deputy who shot and killed him. The Sheriff’s Office has so far withheld the deputy’s body camera footage and collected the family’s surveillance camera footage as evidence. The Naranjos believe the recording will show that Jaime posed no threat.

The Naranjo family can only imagine a world in which their request for help was answered by a qualified professional instead of a sheriff’s deputy. In lieu of that world with their father still in it, the Naranjos gathered outside the supervisors’ chambers Tuesday to mourn and scream Jaime’s name in a desperate plea for recognition from their elected officials, who rubber-stamp the sheriff’s bloated budget year after year.

Not a single supervisor came outside to listen or to observe the long line of posters laid out on the plaza, each bearing the photo and name of a person who had been killed by deputies while experiencing a mental health crisis.

Mental illness is not a crime. It does not need bullets or force; it needs care and training — two things Sacramento County has failed to adequately provide.

The Naranjo family will likely be the recipients of another large settlement from the Sheriff’s Office, funded by taxpayers. But they, and Sacramento as a whole, would be better served if Jaime Naranjo were still alive, contributing to his community and raising his family.