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August 31, 2003


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Plea for help turns deadly

Parents call teen suicidal, police react to 'threat'

Senta Scarborough
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 26, 2003 12:00 AM

Parents' plea for help for their 15-year-old son, who was holding a kitchen knife and threatening suicide, turned deadly early Monday when Mesa police shot him in front of his family.

Westwood High School junior Mario Albert Madrigal Jr. was shot multiple times in the carport of his home near Dobson and Longmore roads in west Mesa after police said he came toward them with a knife "in a threatening manner."



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The boy's parents said their son had dropped the knife after he was shot with a Taser gun moments earlier and was not a threat to officers.

The shooting was strikingly similar to the 2001 death of Ali Altug, 16, shot by a police officer in his Apache Junction kitchen as he wielded a knife.

"I was really literally in shock when I heard. It is so close to what happened here," said Altug's mother, Sande. "How can our society allow that to happen more than once?"

Madrigal's shooting occurred about 1:30 a.m. Monday. His father said he was told by neighbors that his son had consumed six or seven beers.

The officers involved in the Mesa incident were identified as Sgt. Orlando Dean, a 10-year veteran, and Officers Richard Henry and Mark Beckett, who have four and two years on the force, respectively. All three fired their weapons. None was injured and all were placed on paid leave pending investigations, Mesa police Sgt. Mike Goulet said.

Goulet said police were called to the home in the 500 block of South Johnson twice Monday morning.

Police and family versions differed on circumstances leading to the shooting.

Besides police officers, the parents and their 10-year-old son were witnesses.

"They really made a big mistake. I feel the Mesa police department made a criminal action to kill a 15-year old boy unnecessarily," said the father, Mario Madrigal Sr., a U.S. Postal Service worker. "We called for help and they killed him."

Madrigal said his son never threatened officers and was "under control" and started to shake after being shot with a Taser gun when officers started to fire.

"He dropped the knife after the electrical shock," he said. "While he was laying on the floor an officer got close and shot him twice."

Goulet said officers tried to use a Taser gun twice but it was "ineffective."

"He's got the knife and he's advancing toward the officers in a threatening manner. They are telling him to stop and he doesn't obey any of their verbal commands," Goulet said. "He's coming at them regardless of the Taser. At that point they had to discharge their weapons."

Goulet said he did not know how many shots were fired, how far away the officers were or how many times the teen was hit. The investigation is continuing.

Madrigal's father said when he heard the police account, he grabbed a camera, climbed on a neighbor's roof and took his own pictures of the scene, including photos of his son lying dead.

Police first went to the Madrigal home about 12:30 a.m. because the family called 911 when the son and father argued after the teen came home after having "six or seven" beers at a neighbor's home.

"They told us the 15-year-old was involved in a verbal confrontation and had fled," Goulet said. "Officers talked to the family and told them if he returns and there are problems to give them a call."

At 1:13 a.m., 911 got another call from the house.

Madrigal said in a later interview, "I told him (Mario Jr.) that I was going to take him to the crisis center where he can get help to stop drinking alcohol." But, he said, "He took a kitchen knife and says he is going to kill himself and that's when we called police to get help to take him to the crisis center."

About two months ago, Madrigal said police helped take his son to a crisis center to prevent him from drinking alcohol. His son spent six weeks at the center.

"They helped us take him to the crisis center. He was doing very well," Madrigal said. "I was suspecting the same help to take him to that place."

But when police arrived Monday morning, Madrigal said he told police his son was holding a knife and would kill himself.

"My wife opens the door and she was holding my son's hands.

"One of the police officers pushed her away from my son and one of them shot him with an electrical gun," Madrigal said.

"He was already under the effects of the electrical shock when he was on the floor and they started shooting unnecessarily."

His father said the knife was pointing toward the floor.

He said his son spent a lot of time at home, enjoyed fishing, boxing and riding go-carts in the mountains and wanted to join the Army when he graduated.

"He was a normal kid. He was always at home and he would tell us when he wanted to go," said Madrigal. He said his son didn't have a serious drinking problem but he wanted to stop it before it got worse.

In the past two years, about 90 percent of Mesa police have had a four-hour training session on mental illness and retardation to teach officers the signs of mental disabilities and better communicate with those suffering from those conditions, Goulet said.

The Arizona Police Officers Standards and Training Board is developing new training for police academies on the issue and creating an advanced officer training course on dealing with mental illness expected to be taught at departments statewide in nine months.

He was the second Valley civilian shot by police in 24 hours. Phoenix police shot and killed Elias Cabarera, 22, after he shot and wounded two other people at a home on North 50th Drive about 8 p.m. Sunday.



Reporter Brandon Babcock contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at senta.scarborough@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7937.



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