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Man Dies in Santa Barbara County Psychiatric Unit After Being Tased by Police

Authorities take 49-year-old Faulding Hotel resident into custody after confrontation with officers; autopsy results pending

Santa Barbara police officers responded Thursday to the Faulding Hotel at 15 E. Haley St., where 49-year-old Joseph Novoa Lopez had been a resident for more than five years. Lopez was admitted to Santa Barbara County’s Psychiatric Health Facility after being Tased during an altercation with officers and died early Friday.
Santa Barbara police officers responded Thursday to the Faulding Hotel at 15 E. Haley St., where 49-year-old Joseph Novoa Lopez had been a resident for more than five years. Lopez was admitted to Santa Barbara County’s Psychiatric Health Facility after being Tased during an altercation with officers and died early Friday.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writers | @NoozhawkNews |

A 49-year-old Santa Barbara man died early Friday at Santa Barbara County’s Psychiatric Health Facility, where he had been admitted after an altercation at the Faulding Hotel, Santa Barbara police and Sheriff’s Department officials confirmed Monday.

Joseph Novoa Lopez’s death was reported more than 16 hours after he was Tased by Santa Barbara police officers who had responded to his residence at the Faulding Hotel, 15 E. Haley St., around 11 a.m. Thursday. A Faulding employee reported that Lopez was destroying his room and throwing items out of his window into the city parking lot below.

Emmet Hawkes, executive director of the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp., the nonprofit organization that operates the Faulding’s supportive housing, was at the property during the incident and spoke with Noozhawk on Monday about the ordeal. He said Lopez had been “extremely erratic inside the unit” and that staff had had problems with him being disruptive the night before.

Lopez had been living at the complex for more than five years, said Hawkes, who described him as a difficult tenant. He said Lopez’s case worker came by often.

A police officer, familiar with Lopez from previous contacts, responded to the scene and knocked on Lopez’s door, according to Santa Barbara police Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte, a department spokesman. Lopez was naked when he answered the door, Duarte said, and the officer could see that several items had been broken and were strewn around the room.

After instructing Lopez to remain in his room, the officer called for assistance from police, Crisis & Recovery Emergency Services (CARES) and medics. Additional officers arrived at the hotel, and Duarte said they made contact with CARES personnel, requesting that Lopez be taken into custody for a 72-hour hold for being a danger to himself and as gravely disabled.

According to police, Lopez opened the door and addressed one of the officers by name, then began yelling profanities at him. Lopez’s hands were down at his side and clenched into fists, Duarte said, and the officer explained that he was there to help and that Lopez needed to go to the hospital. Lopez, who was described as 6 feet tall and 350 pounds, became agitated and began to walk toward the officer, who attempted to take hold of his arm. Lopez continued to resist, however, and another officer tried to subdue him unsuccessfully, Duarte said.

An officer then deployed his Taser, which struck Lopez in the abdomen, Duarte said.

According to Hawkes, Lopez became resistant when officers tried to get him to leave.

“When they Tasered him, it didn’t affect him greatly,” said Hawkes, adding that the weapon seemed to get Lopez’s attention more than incapacitate him.

Two of the officers knew Lopez and told him to relax, which he did, Hawkes said.

“He just relaxed, and they didn’t cuff him behind his back,” he said. “He just walked out.”

Lopez was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where he was cleared medically. He then was admitted to the Psychiatric Health Facility at 315 Camino del Remedio, where he “was fine and very cooperative,” Hawkes said.

Hawkes said he was told Lopez was served dinner that night and later went to bed, but he never woke up. Around 3:45 a.m. Friday, Santa Barbara police were informed by the county Coroner’s Office that Lopez had died while at the PHF unit.

When CARES called him Friday morning, Hawkes said he expected to get the news that Lopez was fine. When he was told Lopez had instead died, “I was shocked,” he said.

The 16-bed Psychiatric Health Facility — operated by the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services — has been under scrutiny since last year, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services initiated an audit of the facility after a patient death occurred in April 2010.

As Noozhawk has reported previously, the audit found a number of deficiencies, such as in the facility’s drug storage room, where staff said controlled substances routinely go missing and records are not kept to document the shortages. The report also said that facility oversight had failed to ensure patients’ rights were protected and that officials had failed to involve patients in their own plans of care.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services signed off on the facility’s plan of corrections earlier this year, however, and ADMHS officials maintain they’ve fixed the problems outlined in the audit.

ADMHS Executive Director Ann Detrick and Medical Director Edwin Feliciano did not respond to requests for comment on Lopez’s death.

“Confidentiality laws prohibit ADMHS from releasing any information about care that may be provided to a member of the community,” Detrick wrote in an email to Noozhawk.

Santa Barbara police detectives are investigating Lopez’s case, and an autopsy was performed by the Coroner’s Office on Friday.

Drew Sugars, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, which operates the Coroner’s Office, said Monday that a cause and manner of death may not be known for months.

After the autopsy, a person’s toxicology report results and medical history are all considered in determining a cause of death, which is “not something you can just snap your fingers and say, ‘Oh, that’s what happened,’” Sugars said.

Santa Barbara police officials did not respond to Noozhawk’s requests for Taser protocol, but SBPD began using the devices in 2006. The City Council approved the purchase of 145 devices and the staff report noted that Tasers were a nonlethal use of force method. The report also said the devices were expected to reduce the rate of officer injuries, which had resulted in $700,000 in losses for the previous five years.

Suzanne Riordan, executive director of Families ACT!, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families of people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, said mental illness is larger than a law enforcement issue.

“As family members with members struggling with mental health challenges, this story moves us deeply,” Riordan said in a statement.

Instead of calling mental health professionals before the crisis happens, police are often called in the midst of the crisis, said Riordan, adding that law enforcement is designed to deal with crime, not mental illness.

“When the mental hospitals were closed, the promised community mental health facilities were not funded, and our own community hospitals abdicated responsibility for admitting the mentally ill and addicted,” she said. “A vacuum was created that has come to be filled with Tasers and cops.”

Those results are often tragic, she said.

“It is not fair to saddle law enforcement with the job of addressing untreated mental illness,” said Riordan, adding that funding treatment facilities would save money and lives in the long run.

Noozhawk staff writers Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), respectively. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

comments powered by Disqus

» on 08.16.11 @ 02:56 PM

The police dont understand mental illness..

» on 08.17.11 @ 12:32 PM

True enough, but boy if a Taser wouldn’t slow this guy down, how should they handle him?

» on 08.17.11 @ 01:46 PM

The police are not psychiatrists but someone has to go out to these calls. My daughter is mentally ill and the police have been called numerous times. I didn’t agree always how the situation was handled but what is the alternative? The guy died in the PHF. There have been 3 deaths there in a year and a half. I’ve been to the PHF when my daughter was there. The way they control out of control people is to restrain them and lock them in a room. This is done for the patients safety and others which I understand but no one stays in the room with the patient. They are somewhat watched on a monitor. I did not feel my daughter was treated humainly when she was there. I did not feel she got the mental care she deserved, she was housed, but what is the alternative? Hard questions!

» on 08.18.11 @ 01:31 AM

People die in hospitals. Mentally ill people are usually not very healthy because they don’t take care of themselves, can be on drugs, and they die more often. It seems that you have no idea what goes on and are just looking to stir the pot, and you are pointing fingers for no reason. If it turns out that it wasn’t anyone’s fault that he died are you going to retract your nastiness? I didn’t think so.

» on 08.18.11 @ 01:27 PM

No I am not going to retract my comment. I know a lot about mental hospitals, especially PHF. As I stated I have a mentally ill daughter that was born that way. She is well taken care of because she has always lived at home except when she had to be hospitalized. She has never lived on the streets. She is 46 years old now so I think I know alot more about this than you could possibly know. I have visited her at numerous hospitals up and down the coast because she had to go where ever a bed could be found because there is not enough beds for the mentally ill. She never abused drugs or alcohol. I have gone to PHF at least 50 times to visit her over the years. I have seen first hand while visiting what happens in there. You don’t go to some pretty visiting area to visit your loved one. You are there in the day room with ALL OF THE PATIENTS. It seems you need to do some research or walk in the shoes of someone who is truly living day to day with a mentally ill person.

» on 08.18.11 @ 03:11 PM

One more thing “Reality” I am not pointing the finger at anyone, I am stating the facts. Regardless of why this man died does not change the fact that PHF has been in trouble in the last year or so for missing narcotics and a physically healthy man died while in restraints and PHF is being investigated for that.They restrained him, left him alone and he died. You assume that if someone is mentally they must also be physically ill and that is not true. Yes, drug addicts and alcoholics are probably physically ill but not every mentally ill patient is an addict. Please educate yourself and don’t make a general assumption regarding ill people.

» on 08.19.11 @ 03:23 AM


1) I was not responding to your post. I was commenting on the article. I thought that was obvious since I didn’t mention your name. Apparently I was wrong.

2) You have no idea what was going on with the patient who died in restraints. You don’t know what the facts are unless you have managed to get your hands on the coroner’s report. I have read the news articles, and they read like the usual community drivel.

3) You know nothing about me, who I am, what I’ve experienced, or what I know. I’ll tell you one thing, though: I base my opinions on research and fact, not emotion. I’m sorry that you have a mentally ill family member. However, I think it’s distorted your perception. And if you don’t like the way the PHF looks, feel free to write a check.

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