There have been disturbing incidents of mentally ill persons dying at the hands of police in 2016. This week in New York City, another person described as learning disabled by family members has died after an encounter with police. Authorities have stated that they received a 911 call reporting that a man with a knife was acting erratically in his home. When police arrived, they encountered an agitated Ariel Galarza in his basement apartment. Galarza suffered a stroke earlier this year.
Three officers and a sergeant talked with Galarza, who was holding a broken bottle, in an attempt to deescalate the situation. He allegedly lunged at them with the bottle. Sgt. William Melrose, a 13-year veteran, then used a Taser stun gun on Galarza. The effect of the Taser brought Galarza to the floor and officers were attempting to restrain him as he still struggled. It was then that Melrose used the taser a second time directly to his body, which is approved by the NYPD. Galarza went into cardiac arrest and was revived with CPR by the officers. He was transported to a hospital where he suffered another cardiac arrest and later died.
Galarza was described as well-liked and normally mild-mannered by family and friends. His actions came as a shock to those who stated he never even drank alcohol. He did, however, have an arrest history that included five arrests that included burglary and smoking marijuana. All five arrests have been sealed by the courts.
Sgt. Melrose is still on duty as he is being investigated by the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division. Melrose was the subject of two prior lawsuits. In one 2010 case, he and other officers were accused of false arrest and strip searching a suspect named Kurt Walters. According to the lawsuit, Walters claims that he was pulled out of his holding cell, thrown to the ground, threatened with a stun gun and hit in the ribs. That case was settled for $17,500 by the city with no admission of guilt. In 2015, Jose Mendoza of the Bronx sued Melrose and other officers in Bronx County Supreme Court for wrongful arrest.
This is the second time in two weeks that the NYPD has been responsible for a mentally ill person’s death during an arrest. Deborah Danner, 66, was shot by police while naked and allegedly swung a baseball bat at police when she was shot by NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry.