'He didn't deserve to die': Family says man shot by Downey police was mentally ill

LOCATION: 7118 Stewart and Grey Road AREA/CITY: Downey DETAILS: A possibly armed male described as a "suspect" by Fire dispatchers was wounded in a shooting believed to be officer involved Saturday night. Downey FD paramedics responded to the area in regards to a gun shot victim. As paramedics responded, they were advised to continue to stage away as the "suspect" was reportedly down with a gun shot wound to the face and still possibly armed Paramedics were cleared to roll in but ended up not transporting the gun shot victim. Details are still developing, however indications suggest that police may have opened fire on the suspect in an alleyway behind the given address. A large crime scene has since been established by police.
The Downey Police Department reported a fatal shooting after officers responded to a "disturbance." (OnScene.TV)

A mentally ill man was fatally shot Saturday by Downey police in his backyard after a neighbor called the police on him for lighting fireworks, his family said.

The Downey Police Department said it was responding to a call about a “disturbance” on Stewart and Gray Road about 6:15 p.m.

The family said Alberto Nicholas Arenas, 29, had struggled with psychosis since he was 12 and lived with his parents at their home. On Saturday night, some family members were barbecuing in the backyard. Arenas had been drinking, which often triggered psychotic episodes, said his father, Alberto Hurtado Arenas.

He said his son had been lighting fireworks in the backyard when he got in an argument with a neighbor, who said the explosives were upsetting his dog. One of the neighbors called the police, the family said.

"He didn't deserve to die," said his sister, Samantha Arenas. "He wasn’t a bad person — he was trying to get his life together."

His sister, who was not at the home at the time, said a SWAT team with a negotiator responded to the call, though she said she did not know why the call required the heightened response. She said her two younger siblings, who were home at the time, told her that police kept asking them whether he had a weapon.

"They kept telling him no," she said. "He doesn’t have anything — he’s just mentally unstable."

Police said in an updated news release Sunday that they found an airsoft-style rifle at the scene. The statement said officers made "several attempts to gain control and deescalate the situation" when Arenas pointed the gun at them.

Arenas' father said he'd been driving home from Azusa about an hour away when he learned the police were at the house.

For roughly two hours, the elder Arenas said, his son stood in the fenced-off backyard while law enforcement stood outside the house's 6-foot wooden gate, yelling at his son to come out onto the street. He said the gate has a large plank missing, which the negotiator spoke through.

The father said he called the Downey police station at least half a dozen times asking them to wait to engage with his son until he was home.

"I had told them, 'Don't go in my yard, wait until I get there,'" the father recounted. "The officers were badgering him through the wall."

At one point, he said, the dispatcher told him that his son had shot at the police, and the police had returned fire.

He said no one else aside from the dispatcher had told him his son fired a weapon.

The police statement said the man died at the scene, and no officer was injured.

Downey police said the California Department of Justice is handling the investigation into the shooting. The Department of Justice typically investigates police shootings when the victim did not have a weapon.

The state Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Arenas' father said Downey police knew his son, who he said had a felony conviction, and were aware he struggled with mental illness. He said his son had been improving lately, recently landing a promising job with a company that makes medical supplies and taking care of his two children, a 9-month-old and a 2-year-old.

The father said, in his opinion, there was "nothing to stop" officers from walking away from the home that night.

"When you know the history of someone who has a mental illness, don't badger them," he said. "There’s nothing that's going to bring my son back."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.