Mentally ill man is killed by police at group home

Times Staff Writer

A 24-year-old mentally ill man living at a Highland Park group home for the disabled was fatally shot by a Los Angeles police officer during a confrontation early Sunday, police said.

The man, holding what police described as a sharp object, was shot when he allegedly attempted to stab an officer called to the home because the resident had become violent, said Officer Mike Lopez.

Identified by a group home worker and a relative as Francisco Mondragon, the man died at County-USC Medical Center a short time after the shooting, authorities said.

When police arrived at the Echo Street facility about 2 a.m., Lopez said, the man allegedly lunged at one officer, tearing his shirt sleeve. The officer's partner then fired, Lopez said.

Additional details, including the type of weapon the man had and the number of shots fired by the Los Angeles Police Department officer, would not be available before today, Lopez said. The incident is being reviewed by the LAPD's Force Investigation Division, which examines officer-involved shootings.

A cousin and court-appointed conservator, Cristina Saucedo-Garcia, said Mondragon was an accomplished 19-year-old college student in Texas when he began suffering from schizophrenia. In recent years, she said, he had been in and out of mental hospitals. He had a supportive family, she said, and spent Saturday with his mother and an uncle attending a movie.

After he returned to Fair Oaks Manor 3, Mondragon became loud and angry, said Soledad Buiser, a volunteer helper who was present. Mondragon said he wanted to die and threatened to kill her if she came near him, Buiser said.

Another resident told Buiser that Mondragon, who had lived at the group home for about a year, had a screwdriver, the volunteer said. Buiser said she was in her room when police arrived, approaching Mondragon in a first floor hallway. Buiser said she later heard what sounded like two gunshots.

Saucedo-Garcia, Mondragon's conservator, said the family had been worried since being alerted at 3 a.m. by the group home that police had taken him somewhere.

But despite repeated inquiries, Saucedo-Garcia said, police would not tell her what had happened -- or where Mondragon was.

"They wouldn't give me any indication," she said.

Saucedo-Garcia said she did not learn of her cousin's death until a reporter contacted the family Sunday evening.

Lopez said LAPD detectives or the Los Angeles County coroner's office notify family members in such cases. He said he could not comment on whether detectives had attempted to contact relatives Sunday.

The coroner's office did not notify the next of kin because the body remained at the hospital, and an investigator had not been assigned to the case, said a spokesman, Lt. Larry Dietz.

rich.connell@latimes.com

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