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Attorney questions Citrus Heights police response to mentally ill suspect

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am

A man who was shot and seriously injured by Citrus Heights police officers on Halloween had been taken to a hospital on a “5150” mental health hold by another law enforcement agency the night before the shooting, according to authorities and court documents.

Less than five hours after his release from Mercy San Juan Medical Center, Pangagiotis Eliopoulos threatened residents and employees of a drug rehabilitation center with knives and made irrational and nonsensical statements, according to witness statements compiled in detectives’ request for an arrest warrant after the shooting.

Eliopoulos, 30, later charged officers while armed with two knives, Citrus Heights police said. Fearing for their lives, police said, the officers fired, striking Eliopoulos multiple times.

His attorney, Robert Drescher, alleges that police knew as they were arriving on scene the morning of Oct. 31 that Eliopoulos likely had mental health issues – given the previous night’s “5150” hold and the erratic behavior reported in 911 calls that morning – and could have handled the call with less-lethal force.

“He wasn’t in his right mind at the time,” Drescher said of Eliopoulos, 30. “The bottom line is, there were many other alternatives to Citrus Heights police before they opened fire.”

Drescher alleges two officers fired more than a dozen shots, striking his client five times. He sustained permanent injuries, including the need for a colostomy bag, Drescher said.

The attorney has filed a claim against the city for $10 million on Eliopoulos’ behalf, which the city has rejected. Drescher said he plans to file a lawsuit after the new year begins.

Police spokesman Lt. Ryan Kinnan said he could not discuss the incident at length because of the likely litigation. However, he said Eliopoulos’ violent behavior dictated officers’ responses that day.

“Obviously, this is a tragic event. Nobody ever wants to be involved in a deadly force situation,” Kinnan said. “But in this matter, the suspect put the officers in this situation to use deadly force when he charged the officers armed with two knives and was in a full sprint toward them in a short distance.”

Police arrested Eliopoulos on a warrant after he was treated for injuries sustained in the shooting. He is now in custody at Sacramento’s Main Jail, being held in lieu of $450,000 bail. His criminal defense attorney, Ken Rosenfeld, has raised questions about his client’s mental competency to stand trial, and is in the process of having his client evaluated, according to prosecutors. The results of that evaluation are expected to be reviewed during a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court on Jan. 16.

Drescher said he is still reviewing a 200-page police report about the incident. It appears that 18 of those pages were submitted by police to obtain the arrest warrant. Those pages were reviewed by The Bee as part of the publicly available court file.

Few details of law enforcement’s interaction with Eliopoulos the night of Oct. 30 are publicly known. His sister, Sunday Eliopoulos, told police that their parents took him to a medical clinic that night so he could be cleared for admission to the Oak House Treatment Program for his methamphetamine addiction, according to the police request for an arrest warrant. Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies arrived after he wouldn’t sign paperwork at the clinic, refused medications and then ran into traffic near Madison Avenue and Dewey Drive, according to police documentation of Sunday Eliopoulos’ statement.

Deputies took him to Mercy San Juan Medical Center on a “5150” hold, which refers to the Welfare and Institutions Code allowing law enforcement to involuntarily commit people for up to 72 hours if they pose a danger to themselves or others or are unable to care for themselves. Sunday Eliopoulos told police her parents picked her brother up after he was released from the hospital about 4:30 a.m. Oct. 31. They took him to breakfast, and he agreed to go to rehab. But Sunday Eliopoulos was skeptical, according to the police account.

“Sunday stated, ‘I have the idea in my head that he’s gonna try to do something crazy today,’ ” police wrote. “ ‘It was just too good to be true that he was so compliant.’ 

She also told police that her brother “acts mentally ill” even when he is not high, though his methamphetamine use exacerbates the behavior, according to the police account.

Based on Eliopoulos’ alleged behavior later that morning, Drescher said it is “highly questionable” that he was competent when he was released from Mercy San Juan.

When asked why Eliopoulos was released before the 72-hour maximum, a spokeswoman for Dignity Health, which owns the medical center, released the following statement: “Dignity Health is committed to protecting the privacy of its patients. In the event that we have or had a patient who is receiving care related to mental health, federal and state laws prohibit hospitals from releasing any information. That includes acknowledging that such a patient had been at our hospital.”

After breakfast, Pangagiotis Eliopoulos’ parents dropped him off at the Oak House Treatment Center in Citrus Heights and then went to a local market to buy him snacks, his sister told police. It was during that time that the shooting occurred.

Witnesses told police that his behavior devolved after employees at the center said they needed to make sure he was medically cleared to be there. He grabbed knives from the kitchen and began making statements indicating he thought people were out to kill him.

One employee told police Eliopoulos said: “Don’t make me kill you! I’ve never hurt anyone!” Eliopoulos then said he didn’t want to be put in the refrigerator “because it’s cold in there,” the employee told police.

“His threats weren’t aggressive, they were more defensive,” the employee told police.

Eliopoulos then ran from the treatment center, broke into a neighbor’s house and knocked the phone from a resident’s hand as she tried to call police, according to the warrant request. The woman’s grandmother, who was crying “uncontrollably” when she was later interviewed by police, said the man who came in was running back and forth with knives in his hands.

“He kept saying they are coming after him,” she is quoted as saying in the arrest request. “I was very scared and worried he was going to stab my husband.”

Officers confronted Eliopoulos in a vacant lot nearby. Although witness statements documented in the warrant request varied, some witnesses told police they heard officers yelling at the suspect to get down, followed by as many as 14 gunshots. After the incident, police said Eliopoulos had charged officers with two knives, which were recovered from the scene.

At the time, police said two officers suffered minor injuries “while struggling with suspect.” On Monday, Kinnan confirmed Drescher’s claim that those officers were injured when a department K9 bit them, but said the injuries did occur during the overall attempt to take Eliopoulos into custody.

Eliopoulos has one previous criminal conviction in Sacramento County. In 2010, he pleaded no contest to second-degree robbery and was sentenced to almost a year in jail, according to Superior Court records available online. He remains on formal probation for that offense.


Call The Bee’s Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Kim_Minugh.

Read more articles by Kim Minugh



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