Delacruz family seeking answers in son’s death

Published 6:11 pm Friday, August 12, 2016

The family of a young man who died while in custody at a local hospital is seeking answers and justice for their loved one with the hopes that no one else experiences their pain.

Tears ran down the face of Olga Benavides, the mother of Manuel Delacruz, as she tied a ‘happy birthday’ helium balloon to a table outside their Port Arthur home on Aug. 10.

“Today’s his birthday. He would have been 27,” Benavides said. The family had set up a canopy in their front yard to shade a table covered with numerous trophies, photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings and medals Manuel Delacruz had earned in his short, yet successful, boxing career.

A look at the numerous awards, trophies, newspaper and magazine clippings on the boxing career of Delacruz. Mary Meaux/The News

A look at the numerous awards, trophies, newspaper and magazine clippings on the boxing career of Delacruz.
Mary Meaux/The News

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A second table held a TV where his father, Marco Antonio Delacruz, was playing a tape that was pieced together from segments of newscasts and boxing videos of his son’s promising career. The grieving mother, seeing images of her youngest son alive and vibrant, brought more tears.

Sandra Barajas, Manuel’s cousin, was on hand to help translate for her aunt and uncle and they told of the boxer’s life and how it ended.

Manuel Delacruz was a natural born athlete. He played Little League baseball and soccer but it was boxing — a sport that his grandfather and uncles took part in, that he especially excelled in.

“He started boxing at around 15 of 16 at Orange County Boxing Club,” the father said, adding that his son won a Junior Olympic title, had boxed in competitions in Michigan and in Canada. “He was really good at it.”

Port Arthur’s Manuel Delacruz was an award winning boxer in his youth. Mary Meaux/The News

Port Arthur’s Manuel Delacruz was an award winning boxer in his youth.
Mary Meaux/The News

The Golden Gloves champion began to focus on the sport and transferred from Memorial High School to home school and earned his high school diploma.

Barajas said Manuel continued boxing before a fateful incident with law enforcement led to a deep fear of police and the beginnings of schizophrenia.

At the age of 17, Manuel was riding in a car with friends and some sort of accident occurred. The friends took off afterward leaving Manuel sleeping in the back seat.

“They called and told me he was there (jail),” Benavides said. “I’m one of those moms that if he’s done something wrong, he can pay for whatever he did. He (Manuel’s father) said no, let’s go see what he did.”

The parents left and went to the jail and learned Manuel had been charged with public intoxication. He had been there all day and wasn’t allowed to see his parents, they said.

“The girl in the front desk, I still remember, she had beautiful eyes. She said six different police officers hit him,” she said.

Marco Delacruz continued the story — when Manuel came out he lifted his shirt and said ‘look what they done to me’ thus showing the eight areas where he had been Tased. He also had a bump on the back of his head where he may have been knocked out, Benavides added.

Manuel was brought home and the parents began to take care of his injuries – this is when he decided he didn’t want to box anymore.

“From then on he was afraid of police officers,” Barajas said. “He would get worked up. This is when it (fear of police) started and got worse over the years.”

Benavides said her son was being treated for schizophrenia and his condition was under control.

Delacruz added that Manuel was living a normal life. He held down a job as a welder, he loved to cook for his family and was good at it and was loved by family and friends.

His cousin Barajas echoed their comments.

“He was very friendly and the kids loved him,” she said. “Manuel was always happy, talking to everybody.”

All this changed on Aug. 1.

Manual was being “rowdy” but not aggressive, Delacruz said, so family sought help for the schizophrenic young man. He had first been taken to a doctor then directed to go to The Medical Center of Southeast Texas, they said.

But Manuel still had rights. If he willingly wanted to be admitted for mental health treatment that was one thing; without his consent meant the family would need a mental health warrant from officers or a judge.

The father tried to obtain a mental health warrant from a local judge’s office but the office had already closed for the day, he said. So they called police for help.

The family said they explained to officers that Manuel was acting rowdy and that he was schizophrenic but not aggressive.

Once he got to the hospital and saw officers he became scared and didn’t want to go inside by himself.

“We told them that Manuel was schizophrenic and a little rowdy and we didn’t want them to treat him bad,” he said.

Marco Delacruz, Manuel’s brother, helped officers bring Manuel, who was in handcuffs, inside the hospital.

“You could see the officer talking to him, trying to calm him down,” Barajas said. “His brother came out and said ‘he’s inside and OK.’”

Manuel’s sister, Ruth Delacruz, remembers seeing him leaning his rear against a bed. He washed his face and a family member went and got him a Dr. Pepper to drink.

This was the last time family members saw him alive.

“Everything was going fine,” the father said. “He was doing fine, sitting against the bed.”

But Manuel did not want health care personnel to take a blood sample, he said. Delacruz thought he would be leaving his son at the hospital for the night giving him a chance to obtain the judge’s mental health warrant. He also hoped to get Manuel his medications and a sedative to help him sleep but blood work was needed.

“He was under control. I was going to get the meds from the nurse so Manuel cold take his medications and sleep all night,” he said. “I moved a little further from where he was and they (either officers or medical personnel) closed the curtain where he and they were. At that point I don’t know what’s going on. I hear nurses go on, and like a loud bang. The curtain raises up about two-feet where I can see a scuffle. I see they are Tasing him.”

The commotion continued and Delacruz said when his son “fell out” that officers were on top of Manuel, who was in handcuffs and that his hands appeared almost broken.

“Seeing Manuel not coming back they started screaming ‘Manuel.’ At that point I knew they killed him,” he said.

Delacruz said that during his son’s time in the emergency room there was a shift change of police officers. He speculates the new group of officers may not have known of Manuel’s condition.

“Why, if Manuel was already in handcuffs, did they continue on top of him? Then I started hearing them give electroshocks, he never responded,” he said. “How is it we talked to Manuel then three minutes later he’s gone?”

Barajas said Manuel was healthy physically when he went to the hospital. His blood pressure was checked and it was OK.

“The only problem is because he didn’t want to give them a blood sample,” the father said.

Now, Delacruz said, they are telling the family that Manuel tried to take the Taser from officers, an issue that Delacruz said police needed to prove.

Benavides said police knew of his mental condition as she had “registered him” with police as schizophrenic so if he were ever to be stopped by law enforcement, they would treat him as a mentally ill person and not as a criminal.

Delacruz said the family wants to see that police officers get training to better help people with mental illness and not treat them as criminals.

“I feel even though we told officers he was schizophrenic, they treated him like a criminal,” the father said. They also want justice.

Port Arthur Police were contacted regarding the Delacruz family’s statements but declined to comment saying the case is being investigated by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.

According to a press release from the Port Arthur Police Department, officers were called to The Medical Center of Southeast Texas shortly before 5 p.m. Aug. 1 to help family members seeking help for Manuel Delacruz. Once inside an emergency room the man reportedly refused to comply with officers and medical personnel and a struggle ensued. They were trying to control him for his own safety and that of others involved.

“During the struggle, officers and ER personnel realized the subject was in distress,” Lt. M. Blitch said in the press release. “Medical personnel then began immediate emergency procedures, however, the medical efforts were unfortunately not successful.”

The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office is investigating, which is standard procedure.

The family is planning a vigil in hopes of justice for Manuel. They will walk from their home in the 3900 block of 11th Street to the Port Arthur Police Station at 6 p.m. Sunday.

The Delacruz family has obtained legal counsel in the issue.

Mary Meaux: 409-721-2429

Twitter: @MaryMeauxPANews