Posted: 10:58 p.m. Saturday, March 29, 2014

Family questions how authorities handled fatal Pacifica standoff

Pacifica vigil for Errol Chang
Pacifica vigil for Errol Chang

By Debora Villalon

PACIFICA, Calif. —

More than 100 people gathered for a somber vigil Saturday night in Pacifica to silently mourn a mentally ill man who was shot and killed by a San Mateo County SWAT officer last week.

Those assembled questioned why 34-year-old Errol Chang had to die in the same Pacifica house where he lived with his father, and where he suffered a paranoid episode that ended fatally on March 18.

"We called for help and they didn't help him," his brother Matt Chang told KTVU. "They just killed him."

The candlelight vigil for Chang was as serene as the incident itself was chaotic.

First police, then a SWAT team, spent several hours in a standoff with Chang before storming the house and engaging in a deadly confrontation.

"Right here is where it happened," said Matt, guiding KTVU's camera to the kitchen corner where his brother fell after he was shot.

Authorities said a Daly City police officer on the SWAT team shot Chang after he stabbed another officer with a knife. The officer's wound was not serious. He was treated and released from the hospital the same day.

"My brother was a paranoid schizophrenic" explained Matt Chang, "he was afraid people were going to hurt him, he didn't want to hurt people."

The family questioned why heavily-armed officers had to rush through a back door and why they couldn't have waited-out the distraught man. 

"He hadn't slept for three days," detailed Matt, "eventually he was going to wear down, or get hungry or sleepy or something."

Photos from neighbors, as well as KTVU video, shows an agitated Chang leaning out of his front window, arms up, hands empty.

"In these pictures, he looks like he's surrendering, " observed his brother.  

But police said they had spent six hours trying to reason with Chang. They were worried he was armed with an axe, and perhaps had access to a rifle. Neigbors had been evacuated as a precaution. 

"They should have never shot him. They could have gassed him out, or used rubber bullets, " said longtime friend Teresa Gutierrez. Like dozens of others at the vigil, she held a candle and wore a green ribbon for mental health awareness.

"I've lost a childhood friend I've had for twenty plus years. It's devastating," Gutierrez added.

She said Chang's friends, who rushed to the scene and pleaded to speak with him, were rebuffed by police.

"There's so many other steps that could have been taken. And yet, this is the outcome and now we're all heartbroken," Gutierrez said sadly.  

Among those in the crowd, was Pacifica City Council member Karen Ervin. She noted the officer's use of force is under customary review, but said she believes the tragedy illuminates a greater need.

"What I truly hope for is this leads to a strengthening of services, because access to mental health care is vitally important" said Ervin.

Pacifica Police did not respond to KTVU inquiries for comment Saturday, but have said previously they hoped Chang would surrender, but he repeatedly refused.

Loved ones said that was due to his escalating fear and paranoia. If they had it to do again, they told KTVU they would not call police for help.

"Why would we?" asked Matt Chang. "The way this turned out, this is a painful thing."

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