‘I want them to kill me’ A fatal death-wish shooting in Sarasota was justified – but was it avoidable? — (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

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Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)

September 12, 1999

Author: Tom Spalding STAFF WRITER

Depressed and intoxicated, gardener Lupe Garibay told his boss, “Today is the day I’m going to die.”    After someone dialed 911, Sarasota County sheriff’s deputies arrived and found Garibay unarmed but “combative and abusive.” They restrained him, took him into custody and got him medical attention.
Two and a half years later, on Aug. 13, deputies and Garibay would meet again at the same place on Baccus Avenue in Sarasota.  In the late afternoon, Garibay called 911 and said he had a machete. Combative, he was again depressed, again intoxicated and again incoherent.

This time, Lupe Garibay ended up dead.

Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Bybee, one of seven officers who surrounded the machete-wielding Garibay, exclaimed “We’re here to help! We’re here to help!” more than 50 times before firing five rounds, striking Garibay in the hip and head.

The state attorney’s office and a sheriff’s shooting review board ruled the killing justified.

But knowing Lupe Garibay had a death wish, was it avoidable?

Prescription drugs, vodka

Eleanor Rodriguez says Garibay didn’t have to die.  For about six years, Rodriguez had employed Garibay to tend her 5 acres that used to support ranching.  She was one of his few known friends, and knew the 57-year-old man’s spirits had spiraled downward after recent setbacks.

A back injury kept Garibay in constant pain. Unable to work, he had little money, no medical insurance and no place to live. In the days leading up to the shooting, he slept in her back yard next to a horse stable, his bed either a red Pontiac Fiero or some blankets in the grass, Rodriguez said. He used a fan to keep cool on the sticky nights.

According to sheriff’s records, investigators found bottles of prescription medications, the pain-killer Vicadin and the antidepressant Prozac on the floor of his car after his death.  Nearby was a bottle of vodka, half-empty.

A widower who maintained infrequent contact with his family in California, Garibay also mourned the loss of his dog, which had been stolen from the Rodriguez’ ranch last winter.  And a girlfriend had recently ended their relationship.

Garibay had been depressed the night of Aug. 12, and Rodriguez, trying to help, phoned another of his friends, Patricia Vricelle, who was able to calm him down.

The next morning, Aug. 13, Rodriguez noticed Lupe was drunk.  She made him a sandwich in the hopes that it would help sober him up.

Around noon, Garibay, shirtless and wearing black pants, went to the Rodriguez house and asked her to call the police.   “I want you to call 911; I am going to put up a fight; I want them to kill me,” Garibay told her, according to sheriff’s records.   She refused.

At 3:30 p.m., Garibay called Vricelle, informed her that he was going to end his life and thanked her for being a friend. At 4:12 p.m., Garibay called 911 and reported a “very deadly” man who was “armed to the maximum” with a machete.  “You better bring some cops around,” he told the dispatcher.

Rodriguez then took the phone from him and told the same 911 dispatcher that it was a trick.

“I don’t want the police here,” she said, telling the dispatcher of the 1996 incident in which he “made a spectacle of himself, drunk.” She explained that he’d been taken into custody under either the Baker Act or Marchman Act, both of which can be used by police for mentally ill or intoxicated persons without involving criminal charges.

“You know, I think this is a waste of time for the police to come here,” Rodriguez reported saying.    But deputies, told of a man with a machete, were already on their way. At least four squad cars would be at the scene before the 10-minute telephone call was completed.

“I do not agree with this,” Rodriguez said.

“Well, ma’am, he may need to be Baker-acted again if he had it in the past, if he’s sitting there but maybe wants to kill himself,” the dispatcher said.   “Well, why doesn’t he kill himself and not ask the police to do it for him?” Rodriguez replied. “This is what I don’t approve of.”

“OK,” the dispatcher said. “Well, I mean they are not going to do anything.”

“Enemy troops”

Shortly after his 3 p.m. shift began, Frank Bybee had stopped a motorist for a traffic violation on Clark Road when he heard the radio call for deputies to respond to the call from Baccus Avenue. He was just two minutes away.

He and other deputies arrived and saw Garibay outdoors wielding a machete. They ordered him to drop to the ground.   Rodriguez was yelling for Garibay to stop – and for deputies not to shoot.    Garibay wasn’t listening, uttering gibberish about the Vietnam War and calling deputies “enemy troops.” He advanced, making the deputies retreat from the back to the front yard.

Their 9mm pistols were drawn. Bybee was the closest to Garibay and was advised by another deputy that he could shoot if he felt threatened. Deputies are taught that if they are closer than 21 feet to someone who is armed with an edged weapon, they lose their tactical advantage.

As the deputies backed up, Garibay put down the machete. But suddenly, according to the Sheriff’s Office, he picked it up again and engaged in a “straight stare” with Bybee, lunging at the deputy standing 8 to 10 feet away.  Bybee fired. One bullet struck Garibay in the left hip. A second bullet struck him in the temple, with the bullet exiting his chin and re-entering his chest.

A third bullet struck Garibay on the right rear portion of his head.   He died, surrounded by deputies.

Suicide by cop

The Sheriff’s Office cleared its deputy of his actions, praised the 911 dispatcher’s handling of the call and believed protocol was followed by everyone. It was labeled a “suicide by cop,” a situation in which someone with a death wish gets in a confrontation with police to force them to kill.

But sheriff’s officials have decided in recent days to begin making policy changes in order to avoid killing people to subdue them.   Sheriff Geoff Monge favors equipping frontline deputies with an alternative to bullets. One idea is “less-lethal weapons,” such as shotguns filled with heavy beanbags to knock down people.

Another idea is to make sure negotiators, traditionally reserved for SWAT confrontations, can quickly respond to scenes involving regular patrol deputies.

And the Sheriff’s Office is not alone in considering such options. Law enforcement agencies around the nation are looking at better ways to deal with the mentally ill and suicidal. Jacksonville police recently decided to review how it handles all such calls.

A few years ago, the Sarasota Police Department was confronted with what many in the agency have called a suicide by cop – the fatal shooting of Joseph Buczek Jr. in his 12th Street home. Though the agency found its SWAT officers, in general, acted appropriately, it took steps to avoid such shootings. Among them: less-lethal weapons and a panel to review SWAT procedures.

The problem is there’s no guarantee that such options work, law enforcement experts say. Every day law enforcement deals with people who threaten a friend or loved one but don’t actually carry out the deed.

Monge noted that lives could be saved with less-lethal weapons or other tactics, but added, “It’s not going to be the answer to everything.”

Having deputies shoot suspects in the legs or knees so as not to kill them is no guarantee of stopping someone who is impaired or dangerous, Monge said. As a result, law enforcement officers are trained to use deadly force, particularly if the person is armed with a weapon.

Monge defended his deputies’ actions by saying Garibay easily could have posed a threat to a neighbor if he thought that was the way to attract a deputy’s attention.

Clinton R. Van Zandt, a former lead hostage negotiator for the FBI, said Sarasota authorities acted properly to continue their response even though Rodriguez told them to go away.

“The police can’t take the (employer’s) word for it because she might be under duress. She might have a gun stuck in her ear,’ Van Zandt said. “The officers have an obligation to the public safety to find out what’s going on.”

So was Garibay’s death avoidable?   The sheriff’s office says no.

Things were different 2 1/2 years ago when deputies confronted Garibay. At that meeting no bullets were fired. No neighborhood was disrupted. The Sheriff’s Office was not put on the spot.

Why? Because, as reports indicate, Garibay didn’t have a weapon.   Though deputies were aware of the 1996 incident when they confronted Garibay last month, their bosses say they had to react to what they saw: a man with a machete.

“There are so many times you go to a suicide call,” Monge said, “If just one or two things had been different . . .”