The family of a 24-year-old man who died Tuesday after he was detained by Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) employees is hoping the public can help in their quest for answers.
Angel Zapata Hernandez was contacted by an MTS code compliance officer at about 6 p.m. Tuesday near the Santa Fe Depot transit station downtown. The officer believed Hernandez might walk in front of a trolley or train, according to the San Diego Police Department.
The MTS dispatcher asked for SDPD assistance because one of MTS’ code compliance officers was fighting with Hernandez on the train platform.
MTS employees and witnesses described Hernandez as acting erratically and possibly under the influence, SDPD said.
Hernandez had a history of drug use but had been sober for over a year, his family said. They also said he was diagnosed with undifferentiated schizophrenia and took regular medication.
“He took his medication daily and I know he took it that day. He’s been on it for a year and a half, and we’ve never had an issue,” Hernandez's aunt Monique Viveros said.
When the MTS employee tried to detain Hernandez, he ran approximately 100 yards before surrendering. Hernandez is described by family members as 6 feet 2 inches tall and around 270 pounds.
When SDPD officers arrived, the MTS code compliance officer and an MTS security officer had Hernandez handcuffed on the ground. SDPD said their officers noticed the man appeared to be in medical distress and a paramedic was called while officers gave the man first-aid.
Hernandez was taken to the hospital where he died.
His family is hoping that witnesses will come forward with video or other evidence that might help explain how he died. They returned to the Santa Fe Depot Thursday to pass out flyers to MTS riders and people nearby.
“We're a little distraught, trying to wrap our heads around what happened,” Viveros said. “We’re trying to figure it out, trying to reach out to the public to get answers that might help us.”
Witnesses did not report seeing any force by the MTS employees except holding Hernandez to the ground as he kicked and screamed, SDPD said.
Hernandez's family described him as a "big teddy bear."
"You just wanted to hug him all the time," aunt Julie Hernandez said. "He would hug you all the time.”
The SDPD Homicide Unit was called to investigate the incident.
MTS sent the following statement to NBC 7:
"MTS Security Officers have the important job of keeping bus and Trolley passengers and the public safe. They also act as ambassadors to the transit system - helping passengers with directions, purchasing tickets, responding to calls for assistance, and much more. Officers receive training in de-escalation, CPR, how to help persons with disabilities, among others. MTS has more than 200 security officers staffed to patrol the system, 10,000 security cameras, and patrolling canine teams. But one of the most important security measures is the public. MTS has a Ride Assured hotline that people can access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to report suspicious activity: (text) 619-318-1338; or (call) 619-595-4960."