A Lafayette Parish grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict law enforcement officers involved in the 2014 arrest of a Scott man who died after losing consciousness while police pinned him down on a curb.
The jury found no evidence of a criminal act in the death of Robert Minjarez Jr., 30, who was taken off life support five days after his March 2, 2014, encounter with law enforcement in front of the Texaco store at Pont Des Mouton Road and University Avenue.
The Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office ruled Minjarez’s death a homicide in September, citing the cause of death as asphyxia “due to face-down physical restraint by law enforcement officers,” with muscle breakdown and cocaine toxicity cited as contributing factors.
Police reports indicating which officers responded that day have been restricted while State Police and the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office conducted investigations into the incident. District Attorney Keith Stutes was unavailable late Wednesday to disclose which officers were presented to the grand jury.
A federal wrongful-death lawsuit filed in March by Heather Scanlan, the mother of Minjarez’s two minor children, names Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Sullivan, Deputies Joey Graciana and Matthew Meginley and former Sgt. Jill Birkenmier; Scott police Officer Hayden Godeaux; and an unknown Carencro police officer.
Minjarez’s mother, Catherine Cortez, also filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the two children, but there’s been no activity noted in the court record.
In his final minutes of consciousness, Minjarez had been pacing in front of the convenience store — seemingly hallucinating — while his children and their mother were inside, according to surveillance footage cited in the autopsy report. The store clerk reported his behavior to police, and responding officers arrived and detained him almost immediately.
Three or four officers soon shackled Minjarez’s hands and legs and pinned him down — his lower half upon the sidewalk, his upper body below the curb — as he pleaded for help for about four minutes, screaming “help me,” “I can’t breathe” and “you’re killing me” before he groaned and lost consciousness, according to the officers’ dash cam footage cited in the autopsy report.
The officers noticed he was unresponsive a minute later, after which he was hospitalized. He was taken off life support after five days.
A day before his final encounter with law enforcement, police had responded to a complaint that Minjarez was “agitated, naked and had destroyed a residence,” according to the autopsy report.
At that time, he was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, sedated and given a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis — or muscle breakdown — before he left the hospital against medical advice without seeing a doctor.
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