Daniel Landeros had no business driving.
His driver’s license was revoked. He ignored red lights and behaved so erratically behind the wheel that his wife, Jennifer Landeros, forced him to stop and let her out.
It was the middle of the week after Thanksgiving 2016. Landeros, 41, a union tile installer from Elk Grove, California, and father of five, left alone. Jennifer Landeros called the Elk Grove Police Non-Emergency Number to say she was concerned about her husband.
He was dead within hours after causing a car accident while high on meth. But not because he – nor any other motorist – was fatally injured in the collision. Instead, what happened next is the subject of an ongoing federal civil trial in Sacramento, in which Jennifer Landeros and the couple’s children face off against five police officers and the city that employed them, with a jury to decide who was responsible. before Landeros’s death that night.
After the crash, police officers tasered Landeros and pinned him face down to the ground, handcuffed with one knee behind his back, until he stopped breathing. The family says they killed someone who, despite his behavior, no longer posed an immediate threat, and was clearly in the grip of mental illness, substance abuse, or both.
The city and police say Landeros’ own reckless behavior, along with heart failure, caused his death.
Four years before the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the death of Daniel Landeros drew no national attention (the Sacramento Bee has been monitoring the case). But the trial will end this week in a climate of heightened awareness about police use of force, after the Floyd case introduced millions to the horrors of “positional asphyxia” – suffocation in the prone position – and how restraint by agents can cause this.
In a community that is generally democratic in its vote, but where the sense of law and order reigns supreme, and the top officials of provincial law enforcement are self-proclaimed conservatives, the Landeros case is also a test of where a local jury’s natural sympathies are at once. rest. of heightened public safety concerns.
Jurors convicted ex-Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin of murder for the several painful minutes he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, dismissing defense attempts to attribute Floyd’s death to drug use and heart disease. Like Floyd and Eric Garner before him, Landeros can be heard in the video of his arrest exclaiming, “I can’t breathe.”
But jurors in his case have a very different set of facts to consider. Garner sold loose cigarettes from the curb. Floyd was questioned about a supposedly fake $20 bill that had been accepted at a supermarket. Landeros — in a state of methamphetamine intoxication, according to his autopsy — swerved into oncoming traffic and hit three passenger vehicles near an intersection where two Elk Grove police officers happened to be performing a traffic stop, court records show.
The overnight crash left other motorists injured, and when Landeros got out of his broken-down truck, bleeding from a cut to the forehead, he ran when officers approached him, court records show. Multiple officers arrived on the scene to assist in what police body and dashcam video showed it was a chaotic confrontation. A local prosecutor would later acquit the officers of criminal offenses.
For the Landeros family, all that matters is what police officers did or didn’t do when they subdued Daniel. The lawsuit filed by his wife and five children, ages 11-23, alleges that he died not because he was agitated, high, or in ill health — as the defendants allege — but because long after he quit wrestling, the officers used their weight to hold him pinned face down, cutting off his oxygen.
Daniel Landeros was the youngest of his parents’ four children — “the baby,” an older brother, Vincent Landeros Jr., told The Daily Beast during a pause in the process last week, which several other members of the Landeros family attended. have traveled. Sacramento to watch.
“He was a good father, a great family man, a breadwinner for his family,” Vincent said. “Always working. Just trying to make things work.”
His other brother, Julian Landeros, called Daniel “my first best friend” in a text message to The Daily Beast.
He also had a lot of personal problems. In pre-trial files, lawyers for both sides argued over how much of his past — clashes with law enforcement, substance abuse and financial pressures — jurors should be allowed to consider. Court records show that Landeros’ license was suspended the night he died due to a previous drunk driving allegation.
After his wife exited the truck, Landeros kept going — accelerating until he swerved into traffic, causing a swarm of multiple vehicles. Occupants of the vehicles Landeros hit were injured, but not seriously, court records show.
The first two officers to approach a bloodied Landeros said that when they asked him if he was involved in the accident, he yelled, “You’re not real!” and ran away.
In a grainy body and dashcam video of the nighttime arrest obtained by a local UKTN branch, one of the two cops chasing him knocks him down with a taser, and a struggle ensues as more cops arrive to help.
Enthralled, Landeros continues to struggle to get up, and from the bottom of the pile makes his muffled plea for air. Minutes later, with Landeros no longer struggling and a full body restraint known as a WRAP being delivered to the scene, the chatter between the Elk Grove officers was suddenly alarmed.
“Is he bleeding from his nose?… He’s blue – he’s turning blue, dude… Roll him over.”
Officers turned the motionless Landeros onto his back and performed CPR, but were unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
The Sacramento County coroner’s report said Landeros died suddenly while incarcerated and with methamphetamines in his system, and that his agitated condition after the car accident, as well as the struggles with the police in which he tased, also contributed to his dead. The coroner declined to classify it as suffocation, or even decide whether his death was a homicide, indicating the exact mix of contributing causes “could not be determined.”
During the trial, the attorney for five officers and the city, Bruce Praet, argued that Landeros’ weight and overall health were factors. Praet did not respond to a voicemail and email asking for comment.
Unlike the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death, none of the Elk Grove officers present when Landeros died in their custody was ever charged with criminal charges. A 2017 investigation by the Sacramento District Attorney acquitted them, finding “no credible evidence to support an allegation of criminal negligence or excessive force against any of the officers,” the district attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, wrote. in a summary to the Elk Grove police chief.
“Immediately after realizing that Landeros was unresponsive,” the letter said, “agents checked his condition, called for medical attention and performed CPR until medical personnel arrived. It cannot be said that the officers were aggravating, culpable, abusive.” or acted recklessly. They acted not with disregard for human life or with indifference to the consequences of their actions. In fact, the officers clearly showed a proper respect for human life.”
The lawsuit alleges that regardless of Landeros’ health or condition or spirit, keeping him pinned face down with a knee to his back on the pavement for several minutes while handcuffed was both reckless and negligent given the widespread police and medical literature warning of the dangers. of positional asphyxia.
“Every time I see one of these cases, I’m honestly surprised we’re still having this discussion,” Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer, told The Daily Beast. “The idea of holding someone in the prone position, especially after they’ve been handcuffed, is so evident against more than 30 years of police practice.”
Stoughton, who testified against Chauvin as an expert witness on police restraint techniques, did not study the Landeros case, but said positional asphyxia is “something so fundamental that it is touched upon in basic training.”
In a provisional impeachment, a Landeros family attorney, Stewart Katz, persuaded police attorney Praet to admit that the Elk Grove Police Department had no specific policy at the time for restraining sensitive, handcuffed individuals. Landeros lawyers, Katz and Dale Galipo, have not responded to requests for comment on this story.
The Daily Beast also asked the city and the police if they have changed their policies, whether any of the officers named in the lawsuit are still with the force, or have ever been the subject of complaints of excessive force. Multiple calls for comment to the Elk Grove Police Department, the city attorney and the city spokesperson went unanswered.
Sacramento County, also home to the state capital, is known for its pro-police politics, an experienced attorney there, Mark Reichel, told The Daily Beast. The outgoing three-term sheriff recently lost his bid to win a seat in Congress as a self-proclaimed “conservative candidate for the law and the constitution.” The Supreme Prosecutor, former Republican Schubert, ran for California’s attorney general in 2022 — but lost — as a right-wing independent with harsh words for Democrats aimed at reducing prison populations.
Reichel cited the death of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man, who was gunned down in 2018 by two Sacramento city officials in the backyard of his grandmother’s home. Clark was unarmed, but Schubert did not charge the officers. In a press conference, she suggested that Clark was suicidal, citing texts investigators found by unlocking his phone. Critics called it character assassination.
Schubert’s office has prosecuted a former Elk Grove officer who was fired by the force for kicking a robbery suspect in the face as he lay on the ground – an attack captured on police video. A jury convicted the officer in March of assault.
In the Landeros case, the jury was expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday.
Vince’s first day at the trial came late last week, which he spent watching the officers testify and justify their actions. But even as he held out hopes of a win, he didn’t think he’d stay in court when the video of his brother’s arrest played — the jurors saw it last Tuesday.
“I can’t look at it,” he said.