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As police arrest more seniors, those with dementia face deadly consequences

"In order for police officers to interact safely with people with dementia, they need a different lens and a completely new skillset. Specialized dementia education including dementia-specific de-escalation techniques should be mandatory to all police officers."

- Eilon Caspi, Elder Voice Board Member

Christie Thompson: The Marshall Project

Published 4:30 AM CST Nov. 22, 2022Updated 1:05 PM CST Nov. 22, 2022

One night in October 2021, Armando Navejas wandered away from his home in El Paso, Texas. The 70-year-old had Parkinson’s disease and dementia, and his family said he could barely speak. Scared for his safety, his wife Josephine called 911 for help tracking him down.

By 2 a.m., Navejas was back in front of his house, shirtless and ambling around. According to video from a neighbor’s home security camera, an officer approached, shining a flashlight in Navejas’ face. Navejas appeared agitated, picking up a string of wooden blocks and walking toward the cop, who retreated behind a parked car. Navejas threw the wood limply toward the officer; it landed on the windshield.

When Navejas turned away, the officer walked around the vehicle and fired a stun gun at Navejas’ back. His body went rigid. He fell face-first onto the sidewalk.

Navejas arrived in the emergency room that night with “multiple facial fractures” and bleeding around his brain, medical records show. He never came home — he died in a rehabilitation facility in March of unrelated natural causes, according to a death certificate.

The El Paso Police Department deemed the use of force “reasonable and necessary,” a spokesperson said in an email. But Navejas’ daughter, Debbie Navejas Aguilar, is suing two officers and the city for the “extreme physical and psychological injury” to her dad.

“They acted like he had a gun,” she said in an interview. “This is a 70-year-old man who is lost in his own head. I just don’t understand it.”

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