San Luis Obispo police were warned about gunman’s mental illness

May 27, 2021

Edward Zamora Giron

Friends, family and neighbors of the gunman who shot and killed Detective Luca Benedetti and wounded another officer warned the San Luis Obispo Police Department repeatedly over months prior to the fatal shooting that the suspect was mentally ill. [Tribune]

The warnings given to the police department contradict what San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at a press conference following the fatal shooting. Local law enforcement had no record of Edward Zamora Giron being mentally ill, Parkinson said.

On May 10, six officers attempted to serve a search warrant at Giron’s San Luis Obispo apartment. When Giron did not respond to police, officers broke down the door of the apartment and found him lying in wait.

A shootout ensued, during which Giron shot and killed Benedetti. Detective Steve Orozco was shot multiple times but survived. Giron died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound and other injuries from being struck by the officers’ return fire.

Last June and July, Giron lost his jobs at The Pad Climbing in SLO and the San Luis Obispo Costco. As a result of the pandemic and losing his jobs, Giron became isolated and depressed, his mother said.

On July 10, 2020, Giron was arrested in in Santa Barbara for unauthorized entry of a dwelling, disorderly conduct and possession of stolen property, according to court records.

The following day, a female friend of Giron’s contacted SLOPD and told an officer she wanted to open a line of communication about Giron. The woman said Giron told her on the phone he entered an unlocked house looking for friends and took a bottle of shampoo. Giron entered a second house and was arrested after security guards confronted him, the woman told the officer.

Detective Luca Benedetti

In her conversation with the officer, the woman said Giron had firearms. The officer said there was no record of him owning registered firearms, she said.

The woman responded, saying then he has unregistered firearms. The officer reportedly told her police did not want to escalate the situation.

Additionally, the woman provided police with screenshots of Giron’s Instagram stories and livestream following his night in jail.

“I have been constantly harassed by police for the last week for every single good thing I’ve tried to do for everyone… I haven’t been sleeping… I’ve been more than just at a loss entirely as to what to do and where I should go… HELP!!” Giron wrote in one of the Instagram stories.

Additionally, Giron wrote on Instagram about getting arrested and being scared and needing help. He also claimed law enforcement took his shoes, hat, IDs, video footage, house keys, car keys and truck.

Three days later, the woman emailed the SLOPD officer, saying Giron’s behavior had become much more volatile and violent, and Giron had become paranoid and developed an unreasonable distrust of the law. The woman stated in the email, it only takes a split second for things to go wrong.

Shelby Urban, a neighbor of Giron’s, described a shift in his personality. Her boyfriend and she tried calling SLOPD about Giron about six times, Urban said.

Urban said she requested a welfare check when she awoke to Giron standing on his balcony early in the morning, yelling, “Nobody listens to me, nobody loves me.”

Police would come, Giron would say he was fine and officers would leave. That would make Giron more mad, Urban said.

On Oct. 18, 2020, Giron swam out to sea in Avila Beach. Emergency personnel rescued him.

Shortly later, Giron went missing for a few weeks, said Caroline Wichman, Giron’s mother. Wichman called SLOPD multiple times during that period, pleading for law enforcement help every other day, she said.

At one point, Giron told his mother he went to Mexico, where he was beaten up and his truck was stolen. Wichman told police over and over about her son’s mental illness, she said.

In response to a missing person report, a SLOPD officer left a voicemail saying another agency located Giron, who was okay and doing well.

After New Year’s 2021, Giron stopped communicating with his relatives, Wichman said.

Wichman said Giron’s family plans to hire a private investigator to gather information about the case, and the family plans to sue SLOPD over how the search was handled. Officers should not have broken down her son’s door. Rather, they should have asked the manager’s office for a key and should have had a social worker with them, Wichman said.

SLO public communications manager Whitney Szentesi said in a statement, when officers served the warrant, SLOPD was aware of past contacts with Giron. None of the contacts were violent in nature, nor did they result in an involuntary mental health hold. A pre-warrant check revealed Giron had no firearms registered to him, Szentesi said.


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mkaney

In a knee jerk reaction to support the police, and make this a simplistic good vs. evil narrative, so many people seem to be missing the point.


Yes, the hands of the police are tied in terms of dealing with mental health issues before they’ve escalated to crimes. Yes, maybe it’s unrealistic to expect us to deal with everyone’s mental health issues.


But the issue at hand is that that the police failed to listen, document, and communicate this information (especially the possible presence of a weapon) within the department, and therefore sent officers in to serve a warrant blindly. This kind of thing would get someone find in private industry. In a successful business, it is essential that people share information and then deal with things in a common sense manner with that information. But government officials, including police, have become so insanely arrogant and dependent upon their written policies only that they can’t see the forest for the trees sometime. Any business person in SLO who has called the police to deal with some transient or mentally ill person knows damn well that they don’t listen and deal with the situation effectively.


Bottom line is despite the lack of official mental health holds, or official weapons registrations, this information should have been successfully communicated within the department so that the officers knew at the time they served the warrant that a heavy handed approach could backfire, and that if they needed to break the door in, they needed to be careful before entering.


pasoparent5

@mkaney’s last paragraph makes perfect sense to me:


“Bottom line is despite the lack of official mental health holds, or official weapons registrations, this information should have been successfully communicated within the department so that the officers knew at the time they served the warrant that a heavy handed approach could backfire, and that if they needed to break the door in, they needed to be careful before entering.”


Cmonnow

Although its been building for years, in today’s political climate law enforcement really can’t grab a guy for acting strange… Its kinda like the situation with the homeless problems. They can burn down the riverbed in Paso, wander aimlessly around the shopping center yelling, and deal drugs but again law enforcement really has their hands tied. California has spent gazillions on a lot of unnecessary things (like on high speed rail) and largely ignored the mental health problem. Somehow its supposed to be more humane to let those with serious issues be on their own. Nobody can talk about the elephant in the room… We need to bolster the whole mental health arena and then allow law enforcement to take certain people into custody immediately transferring them to an appropriate faculty for an allotment of times depending on history, behavior,etc. Sounds a little scary but even to the casual observer the situation is out of control. And to sue the police Department for this…how their hands are tied and for what they tried to do is whole other conversation.


ososkid

Cops lie. If I were on a jury anything a cop said on the stand would have zero credibility if not corroborated by physical evidence. Their word is no better than the word of the criminals they arrest.


NorthCountyLady

This is a tragic situation from every aspect. Our system of dealing with Mental Health is broken. Law Enforcement is caught in the middle of this broken system. I know several people who currently work for County Mental Health. They are short staffed, and the COVID pandemic has taken an additional toll on clients and staff. Many of the staff are experiencing severe burnout and many are currently on leave. That makes it more difficult for clients to get the help they need. I work with people who have mental illnesses and have people in my circle of family and friends who battle depression, anxiety and panic disorders. It is often difficult to get them help. Mental illness is unique in that the very symptoms people experience is what causes them to not get the treatment they need. When one is severely depressed they don’t have the energy or hope to be able to call a psychiatrist, complete intake forms, go to their appointment, fill their prescriptions and take their medications. This is true not just for depression but also, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. This county in particular has a severe shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists and one often has to wait weeks or months to get an appointment. That this mentally ill man could not get the help he needed thus killing a heroic law enforcement officer with a young family and losing his own life is a tragedy of such scope that one can only hope this will put a spotlight on the changes that need to be made. The county must hire more social workers, psychiatric technicians, counselors and psychologists and pay them salaries that are competitive. Mental health professionals should be riding along with law enforcement when the call may involve a mental health crisis. People with mental illness should be able to get help before they commit a crime. All law enforcement personnel must have intensive training on understanding mental illness and how to interact with those in crisis. They need more than the 40 hours of training per year that is currently in place but not fully implemented. As a society we need to do better.


rucereal

So much wrong with this story…this guy repeatedly asked for help and society denied him that. Police need training on mental health crisis and who to refer. We need proper chain of command for these cases so lives are not continually lost. This could have been handled much differently. proper chain of command. Proper handoff. Proper referrals and follow up care. Mental health. HUGE problem. Unregistered guns! Where’d he get those! Another huge problem.

Interested police didn’t want to escalate the situation when they hear about unregistered firearms but when someone doesn’t open a door they break it. Escalate much. Get the key.


obispan

Listen to Congalton’s segment about mental health response. The police do call for mental health staff that are supposed to be on-call and collecting top-dollar taxpayer salaries and benefits. They are AWOL, they don’t respond, they don’t show up. The only thing they do is cash their checks. Actually having to work with the mentally ill is too much work for them. Easier to just blame the police.


rucereal

Are you joking me. Have you ever talked to someone who works for slo county mental health? There aren’t enough staff to cover the calls. There is usually one on call crisis covering all of slo county. Police need to be able to refer and direct cases not incarcerate or to an 8 bed wing with two overworked registered nurses covering an always full 5150 clinic. Society need to change because this is a huge issue. It’s not working period and you know it too. You just don’t know enough.


commonsenseguy

A lot of mental issues arise with the use of drugs and alcohol. It always leads to a debased mind that can’t think clearly, poor choices due to that, and then hopelessness when their world starts falling apart. The huge problem are the drugs. Just look at all of the crimes and root cause of these news stories right here on CCN the last two months alone, including this guys history of addictions to drugs and alcohol.


Gordo

“ Police need to be able to refer and direct cases”


Refer to whom?

County mental health is the agency with responsibility for referrals and they have been given short shrift when it comes to adequate funding. Added to this problem is a sense, among the staff, of hopelessness because they have been left under the direction of Dr. Daisy Ilano, who cares about covering her own ass and cashing her pay check.

The problem with police response to mental health cases is that there are so many calls each day involving mentally ill people they end up being triaged.

My question for SLOPD is what genius thought up the plan for lining up on a second story balcony, in front of a picture window at 5:00 in the afternoon to break down a door for a property crime search warrant? Would they have surprised the suspect if they had served the warrant earlier in the morning?

Could they have just waited outside and arrested him as he left the apartment? Maybe put a tracker on his car and follow him to his next caper?

I am truly sorry Detective Benedetti is dead, but it seems like a failure in supervision and management is what led to this tragedy.


obispan

Listen to the podcast. The caller was a woman witnessing a person in crisis. She spoke to a Sheriff’s Deputy for half an hour as he described the situation with mental health staff. He knew who was on call, if they where already on a call, where they lived, and how long it should take to respond. https://www.920kvec.com/show/dave-congalton-hometown-radio/ at -22:30. I would listen to the whole hour. His guest also explains why the low level mental health hospitals that people could be committed to were closed in the 1970’s. Liberals blamed Reagan but, actually the ACLU sued and the state closed the hospitals rather than defend the lawsuit. And the state saved a little money in the short term.


rucereal

They closed because they didn’t work. People were treated in humanely etc etc. not saying we need to open that door again. Sometimes we have to learn from past mistakes and move forward. There have been huge advancements in mental health medications and treatments. It takes a community. Too often people are divided and judgmental. police officers should be trained accordingly and require more education to become a police officer. They really should all be a cross between social worker/PEACE officer. Because most of the time they are acting as a crisis intervention but don’t have the proper training.


rucereal

Hey and if you think working with the mentally ill isn’t difficult than maybe you should volunteer yourself.


obispan

No I don’t want to volunteer. I want a high-paying, do-nothing job, like so many out there. And I want the problem to become worse, so there will be more entry level high-paying, do-nothing jobs and I can get a higher-paying do-nothing supervisorial job.


Cmonnow

Society failed him? Really? Politicians screwed up California’s mental heath situation and the cops truly have their hands tied. Protect, don’t protect, do something, don’t do anything… Its not their fault this guy was unhinged and killed a man. Give the people that know best how to deal with this stuff some real ammunition (no pun intended) to deal with people. Not politicians, the mental healthcare peoplecand law enforcement the ability to act if theyre the first point of contact. Yes mental health and drug abuse is an incredibly HUGE problem that won’t get better until politicians quit looking for popularity votes and make some tough decisions.


rucereal

So how is that not society? I understand what you mean about hands being tied…and again how is that not another failure…but I have personally experienced law enforcement create a story to make an arrest. They can certainly take the time to wait for crisis intervention…you see I feel that the majority of people don’t have first hand experience with neither law enforcement nor mental health staff. Maybe you know someone who is a law enforcement officer…maybe you have made a report but until you have worked in the environment…that’s when you begin to know the truth.


Cmonnow

Lets say a very small portion of society…my kids didn’t fail him, neighbors, grocery store clerk. I can agree unless violent they could wait for a crisis intervention person…but yes I have had some experience dealing with people w mental illness and drug abuse. You’re also making it sound like a lot of people responding are making up stories just to arrest them. I’m sure its been done but I believe that to be the exception rather the rule. The point is, the whole situation is way out of control, growing, and gets more dangerous. And that little portion of society that control the tax dollars seem to be more worried about expensive projects and keeping their nice perks rather than actually doing constructive work.


Stunned

Oh boy, here we go. Just think of the outcome if they’d entered the home WITH a key…….we’d likely have a dead mental health worker as well as the police lives that were in danger as well. It’s going to shake out I’m sure but, here we going pointing fingers a law enforcement again.


FoxtrotYankee

Seems like the learning here is that all of those times the police were called out for mental health checks (where he said he was “fine” and they left him alone)… would have been ideal times for a mental health professional to be on the case.


kevin rise

Foxtrot, you said it so perfectly. That needs to be policy world wide. Cops suffer a huge burden to have to deal with mental health on the fly without any damn support, or academic training or time, or the time. In the EMS world, it’s a brand new idea to spend as much time needed in mental health emergencies and not have your butt chewed for a lengthy call, and you are a business after all. EMS shouldn’t be privatized, but it is here in Slo county. I take it, as someone who’s been around the block dealing with adverse mental health patients, you might have as well, or like me and most, been there done that. Slo county is LAGGING behind with children and adult mental health, ie, adults with psychotic disorders, veterans with psychosis from trauma, kids with retardation and autism and behavioral health help. This is taught at Cuesta EMS courses. Our failing mental health in slo county. And The Figures In Charge are to Blame. Chiefs, Sherriff, Council, D.A, Drs, Congressional Reps, Lawyers, Unions.


Boris

If he refuses help , does not appear to be a threat to himself and/or others, they ( the police and mental health personnel) cannot do anything if the person is an adult. I ‘ve known a few people in my life that started to go off a bit. One of them was directly related to alcohol, she’d start drinking, really, really, really lose her mind, wake up in jail or with some knuckle bolts in her head, I tried to help her for a few years, maybe 2 1/2, same thing over and over. Quit drinking? That was out of the question, that was the only thing keeping her sane. Its been 25 years. I still hear from her. Still the same. Making bad decisions is not illegal, neither is being paranoid of cops and it doesn’t matter of you’re the police or a mental health person, if they don’t want your help and say so, nothing can be done.


rucereal

The outcome would be this more peaceful enter bullets flying in a smaller area social worker no where near the open door perhaps someone on a mega phone like the old days. Idk but this door busting thing isn’t helping anyone!


sardonicsentiment

Suing the SLOPD is absolutely abhorrent;

you’re kid has done enough damage already!


You want police to approach a known violent offender with tepid tactics and additional unarmed personnel? What planet are you on?


hotdog

Read the story, he was NOT known to be violent.


sardonicsentiment

“the woman emailed the SLOPD officer, saying Giron’s behavior had become much more volatile and violent”


kayaknut

So Sheriff Parkinson lied again, no surprise.