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Assault Charges Filed Against Arizona Veteran Who Threatened to Sue Over Police Brutality

Gilbert Police have filed aggravated-assault charges against a veteran who announced intentions in March to sue the department for using excessive force while attempting to calm him down during a post-traumatic stress disorder breakdown.

Police are accusing Kyle Cardenas, seeking $20 million to settle his lawsuit, of "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" physically harming one police officer, "touching" another "with the intent to injure, insult, or provoke," and injuring two Banner Gateway Hospital security guards. They've also charged him with animal cruelty for an altercation with a law enforcement service dog named Bono. 

The way Deputy County Attorney James Blair tells the story in a probable-cause statement filed in  Maricopa County Superior Court, officers were deployed to Cardenas' home on Santa Rosa Drive after his mother, voicing concern over Cardenas' PTSD, called a crisis hotline operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Cardenas, paranoid that his family was trying to kill him, had been refusing to eat. 

Cardenas, who reportedly was "extremely irate" and "extremely abusive," seized the phone from his mother and "would not allow her to speak," according to court documents. At the time, he was under the influence of marijuana and alcohol. 

When police arrived, Cardenas refused to speak to them and shut and locked the front door, Blair writes. But his mother opened the door, and allowed the officers to enter and head down the hallway toward a bedroom where Cardenas was hiding.

As officers approached, Cardenas allegedly ordered his dog to "get 'em," then, when the dog didn't attack, locked the door to block officers, according to court documents. Officers forced entry and informed him that they intended to detain him because of his "erratic and argumentative behavior."

The altercation kicked off, Blair contends, when officers warned Cardenas that they would use a Taser if he resisted arrest. 

At that point, he writes, Cardenas allegedly "rammed into" Officer Josiah Saladen with his shoulder and put Officer Larry Sinks in a headlock and started punching him in the face.

Saladen deployed his Taser twice, then, Blair writes, Cardenas tackled him and pinned him to the ground in a headlock. In an attempt to free Saladen, Sinks started beating Cardenas with a baton. After Saladen sprayed Cardenas in the face with OC spray, Cardenas fled to another bedroom and officers deployed Bono. While Cardenas was fighting with the K-9, officers Tased the Iraqi war veteran three times. 

Following his arrest, Cardenas was taken to Banner Gateway Hospital, where Blair alleges he "somehow slipped" out of his four-point bed restraint, grabbed a security guard, and pulled him into a "rear-naked-style choke hold," then kneed another security guard in the head. 

Gilbert police officers stepped in to assist with Tasers. Cardenas stopped breathing, but was revived by hospital staff. 

For the most part, the basic facts of Blair's report line up with the facts laid out by Cardenas' lawyer, Scott Zwillinger, in court documents announcing his intention to sue. 

Zwillinger agrees that Cardenas was acting paranoid and erratic when police arrived. He also concedes that he fought with police. 

He argues, however, several key differences. 

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According to his version of events, the veteran's mother explicitly asked the operators of the VA hotline not to send police and did not invite officers to enter her home. After they broke down Cardenas' bedroom door without provocation, Zwillinger writes, one officer told him to put down his cell phone and, before he could comply, another officer fired his Taser. He was sitting in a chair at the time. 

Zwillinger attributes Cardenas' behavior to a mental-health breakdown. He points out that Cardenas, who repeatedly demanded to speak with "Child Protective Services" during the melee, was clearly delusional. He argues the situation would have been better handled with less force. 

The lawyer tells New Times that he finds the department's decision to file charges against Cardenas shortly after he filed a notice of claim "suspect." 

If Gilbert Police decline to settle, he said Cardenas is "prepared to proceed with litigation to recover not only his damages, but to raise awareness of what is occurring on a daily basis throughout the United States relating to the rising numbers of veterans being shot and killed by the police” and “the complete and utter lack of mental-health assistance that is provided by Veterans Affairs directly and through their crisis hotlines.”

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