$1.6 Million Plus Reforms for Family of Mentally Ill Man, Mishandled and Killed By Police

The parents and young son of 32-year-old Sean Arlt brought this case seeking justice and reforms from the Santa Cruz Police Department that mismanaged his psychotic episode, unnecessarily shooting and taking the life of this gentle and beloved man. Officers knew that Sean was having a psychotic episode and that he had never hurt anyone. Officers failed to use appropriate tactical skills to use cover and distance to control the situation and its timing, then "panicked" and shot Sean in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night, when he tried to walk past them. This shooting caused untold grief to his parents, his son and son's mother, and to the Santa Cruz community. Recognizing the need for better practices, this lawsuit has caused the Santa Cruz Police Department to change its deadly force policy to only allow officers to shoot a person if officers are facing an "immediate" threat, and to build upon its improved training for handling incidents involving mentally disturbed people.

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Related Headlines
  • Entire Sean Arlt investigation report released online: Santa Cruz police change policy regarding use of force
    Michael Todd, Santa Cruz Sentinel, January 24, 2019

    ANTA CRUZ — Complete investigation reports — eight exhibits and 17 sections with witnesses’ names blotched out by black ink — of a deadly police shooting on the Westside in October 2016 appeared publicly on the Santa Cruz Police Department website Thursday to comply with a new state law, Police Chief Andy Mills said. … The city of Santa Cruz and Arlt’s family reached a $1.6 million settlement last year in a suit challenging the use of deadly force. On Oct. 11, 2016, six officers responding to a disturbance at the same address worked to detain Arlt in a patrol vehicle before he underwent a 72-hour psychiatric hold, according to police documents. Oakland attorney Michael Haddad, who represents the Arlt family, disputed police statements about what happened and said Arlt was not walking directly toward an officer when he was shot. … “The bullet wounds were to his side,” Haddad said. “I think it was impossible for him to be coming directly at the officer.” … This year, Senate Bill 1421 was imposed to require public access to documents regarding police misconduct, or use of force cases resulting in injury or death. Mills said posting the investigation report — even the autopsy report — online is one way to comply with the new law. “This was a very, very tragic series of events,” Mills said. “But this is a huge shift in public policy in California. I think that transparency is healthy.” As a result of the settlement in the suit by the Arlt family, the police department altered its policy language in the use of force that used to advise officers to use force in imminent — or potential — danger. Now, officers are advised that force is justified under “immediate” danger, Mills said. Haddad said he is working on a case that questions whether policies authorizing uses of force amid imminent danger aren’t constitutional. “Again, the law requires (officers) to consider alternatives,” Haddad said. “All (the officer) had to do was step aside. He didn’t have to shoot this poor mentally ill man with a garden rake.”

  • City, police department settle Arlt suit for $1.6M
    Michael Todd, Santa Cruz Sentinel, November 19, 2018

    SANTA CRUZ — The city reached a $1.6 million settlement to resolve a suit by relatives of Sean Arlt, whom police shot and killed in the Westside while investigating a disturbance call more than two years ago. ... Arlt, 32, was shot about 3:30 a.m. after authorities said he was causing a disturbance at the home of an acquaintance, pounding on the door and making threats. The Arlt family filed suit in U.S. District Court in April 2017 in opposition to an apparent “code of silence” in the investigation of the deadly officer-involved shooting. The claim called for release of evidence, asserted claims of wrongful death and sought damages from Santa Cruz Police Department’s involved officers. Oakland attorney Michael Haddad, representing the family, said the suit also was intended to prevent unlawful lethal force by Santa Cruz Police Department. Haddad previously said the federal courts were the sole avenue by which the Arlt family could receive evidence in the case. The complaint alleged police officers placed themselves in a position of avoidable danger. Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell in February 2017 confirmed that charges will not be filed against the police department. “This settlement reflects our desire for the Arlt family, the city and community to progress forward,” Mayor David Terrazas said. “We know that the City of Santa Cruz, its police department and its residents will continue to seek comprehensive collaboration, for solutions to address our concerns over the mental health crisis.” City Manager Martín Bernal said the settlement was “fiscally responsible when compared to the financial realities and risks of proceeding to trial.”