Mentally ill refugee killed by police

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SAN DIEGO – Friends of a young man with mental illness, who was killed by police after he threatened his family and police with knives and a stick at his City Heights apartment over the weekend, wondered if police could have handled it differently.

Patrol personnel went to the residence in the 3800 block of Menlo Avenue at 10:20 p.m. Sunday on reports that a man was threatening the lives of his family, according to San Diego police.

Jama-Lo-Da

Ja Ma Lo Day (Facebook)

Officers arrived to find the man holding a knife and a stick and behaving in an “agitated” manner, Lt. Mike Hastings said. As the officers tried to persuade him to disarm himself, he allegedly began threatening them and retrieved a machete.

Officers tried in vain to subdue the suspect with stun guns and police dogs, Hastings said. When one of the canines approached, the man struck the animal on the back with the machete, according to police.

The suspect then allegedly swung the weapon at an officer, prompting two others to open fire. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene.

The man was identified by friends on a social media website as 21-year-old Burmese refugee from Myanmar named Ja Ma Lo Day. He was oldest brother of four siblings, all Burmese refugees who escaped their country due to religious and ethnic persecution, according to a friend of the family.

He suffered from mental illness and had been involved in several prior encounters with the police, according to the online posting.

Wendy Gelernter was a volunteer for a refugee assistance organization when she began a friendship with the family. She questioned why police didn’t use a translator or bull horn to communicate with the family.

“Within 20 minutes, the police broke down the door and sent in a police dog. That’s worse thing to do to somebody who’s mentally ill and frightened,” said Gelernter. “[Day] was not a violent person, but when he was scared or threatened he did crazy things.”

The police dog, an 8-year-old German shepherd named Nando, was taken to a veterinary hospital, where staples were used to close the wound. The animal, which is expected to survive, has been with the department since 2008 and was set to be taken off duty this month, the lieutenant said.

The officers who shot the suspect have been employed by the SDPD for 5 1/2 and 6 1/2 years. Their names were not immediately released.

“I know they didn’t do it on purpose. It’s still a tragedy that could have been avoided,” said Gelernter.

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