Angelo Quinto’s Family Speaks After Settling Lawsuit Over His Death

Angelo Quinto’s mother, Cassandra Quinto-Collins, center, stands with son Andrei Quinto, daughter Bella Quinto-Collins and husband Robert Collins (white man with beard) in front of the family home Wednesday following the settlement of a lawsuit over Angelo’s death in police custody. Standing behind them are, from left, are attorney Ben Nisenbaum, Antioch Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe, and attorney John Burris. (Aly Brown / Bay City News)

By Aly Brown
Bay City News

Three and a half years after Angelo Quinto died after being in police custody in Antioch, his family reached a $7.5 million settlement with the city that was announced Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, they held a press conference about the settlement, along with Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe and the family’s attorneys, John Burris and Ben Nisenbaum.

Quinto’s family has been instrumental in bringing police reform to Antioch, but on Wednesday they called for even more change, including separating county coroner’s offices from the umbrella of the sheriff’s department.

The civil rights suit was filed over the death of Quinto, a 30-year-old Navy veteran who was experiencing a mental health crisis when Antioch officers restrained him and placed a knee on his neck for nearly five minutes on Dec. 23, 2020.

During a press conference held at the family’s Antioch home on Wednesday, Quinto’s stepfather Robert Collins expressed gratitude that the city listened to their concerns over the years, resulting in changes made to prevent other in-custody deaths there.

He highlighted the establishment of the Angelo Quinto Community Response Team, Antioch’s mental health crisis response team, along with measures to ban holds by police that cause restraint asphyxia, along with other reforms.

>>>Read: Angelo Quinto Crisis Team Will Give Others the Chance He Never Got

Police body cams are now a reality in Antioch,” Collins said, noting that the family and many community supporters had worked together to effect change all the way up to the state level. “Many of the things began here in Antioch. … We’ve been able to move forward with positive changes that I think we can all agree on.”

The family’s activism in partnership with elected officials led to change, the family’s lawyers said. For example, they worked with Assemblymember Mike Gipson, D-Gardena, to get Assembly Bill 360 passed and signed into law. The bill banned things like “excited delirium” or “agitated delirium” — terms that had only been cited as a cause of death when individuals died in police custody — from being recognized as a valid medical diagnosis or cause of death in the state of California.

Nisenbaum said that “excited delirium” was a “phony” cause of death given by the pathologist who carried out Quinto’s autopsy.

After being confronted with another autopsy commissioned by Quinto’s family and attorneys during a deposition, the pathologist revised his opinion and agreed that restraint asphyxia was the cause of death, according to Nisenbaum.

The family has also been advocates for creating a separation between county coroner’s offices and law enforcement agencies. In counties like Contra Costa, the coroners’ office is a part of the sheriff’s department.

As soon as Quinto died, questions about his manner of injury and eventual death, seemingly at the hands of police, began to be raised. Then when the Contra Costa District Attorney declined to charge any of the officers in his death, the family cried foul. But even more troubling to them was what they saw as a close relationship between the sheriff’s office and the police department during the investigation.

>>>Read: Questions Remain After Richmond Officers Cleared in 2020 In-Custody Death

Collins noted that when the autopsy was performed, an Antioch police officer was in the room and helping to take photos. Nisenbaum said the coroner investigating the death succumbed to pressure by law enforcement, underscoring the need to pass legislation that creates a separation.

Gigi Crowder, executive director of mental health advocacy group National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, in Contra Costa County, also spoke on Wednesday of the importance of dismantling this connection between coroners and sheriff’s offices.

“We lost four individuals — all men of color — here in this county while I was executive director, and I get to retire when true justice is (obtained),” Crowder said. “We hope that the consequences of our county continuing to pay out these settlements will shift the behaviors of law enforcement, and one way to do that is the separation of the sheriff from the coroner.”

During the press conference, Antioch Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe said that working with the Quinto family over the years has shaped his entire time as mayor.

“When you put your arms around a mom who has lost a child, irrespective of how old that child is, it is going to have a profound impact on your life,” he said.

As for the son she lost, Quinto’s mother Cassandra Quinto-Collins shared that he was a young man who loved to joke with his family. His sister Isabella Quinto Collins still has videos of him attempting — and failing — to cartwheel just to make her laugh. And his little brother Andrei Quinto said he hasn’t been the same since.

“I don’t even like talking about it to this day, because it makes me uncomfortable that he’s not here with us right now,” Andrei Quinto continued. “He should still be here with us.”

In the end, Isabella Quinto Collins wants her brother to be remembered for how he lived, not how he died.

“He believed in all his family members. He believed in me more than I could ever believe in myself,” Isabella Quinto Collins said. “He loved to be alive. He was so grateful for life, and I hope that if he is somewhere out there, that he is grateful for everything that we’ve tried to do in honor of him.”

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