ANTIOCH, Calif. - A 30-year-old Antioch man who died after being restrained by police in December succumbed to excited delirium and prescription drugs during the physical altercation with officers, the Contra Costa County Coroner’s Office ruled Friday.
The findings of how Angelo Quinto perished came during a crowded coroner’s inquest inside a Martinez courtroom that ended when a 15-member jury ruled the death an accident.
But while the purpose of the hearing was to provide transparency and clarity into the controversial death that has drawn widespread community outrage – and accusations that police killed Quinto -- Friday’s event seemed to have an opposite effect.
"We expected this. We hoped that it wasn’t the case but we expected this," Quinto’s stepfather, Robert Collins, said on the steps of the courthouse after the hearing.
Quinto’s family not only lambasted the findings, they called the entire event "one-sided," pointing out that only the pathologist who conducted the autopsy and law enforcement officers were called to testify.
"It was not run in any way that would be impartial," Collins said. "It was about lies and confusion to confuse the jury through lies and omission."
Quinto’s mother and sister, who were present when he fell unconscious after police responded to a mental health crisis on Dec. 23, were never asked to describe what they saw.
The family has long contended that Quinto died as a result of restraint asphyxia due to officers holding him face down on the floor for several minutes in a prone position. The technique has been criticized by use-of-force experts around California.
Dr. Ikechi Ogan gave a detailed description of the autopsy process and toxicology tests that led him to his findings. He said Quinto had bruising on his left shoulder and lower back that was consistent with the time when officers were restraining him.
He also said Quinto had bite marks on his cheek and tongue, which can be the result of a seizure but he could not definitively say that happened.
Ogan also said Quinto had no petechiae around his eyes -- small broken blood vessels, which are often present when someone asphyxiates. Quinto’s family commissioned an independent autopsy, which they said found petechiae.
Quinto also had significant brain swelling – or cerebral edema – but Ogan could not find any evidence for it.
Quinto, though, had no signs of trauma on his neck or any evidence that his airway was damaged, Ogan testified. Quinto's mother initially said officers were kneeling on her son's neck.
The blood tests revealed Quinto had caffeine and tobacco in his system along with the prescription drugs Levetiracetam, an anti-seizure drug, and Modafinil, an anti-narcolepsy brain stimulant. It’s not clear if Quinto was prescribed either drug, but officers testified that they found packets of Modafinil around the home.
The drug is popular in the online gaming community and some students for its reported cognitive enhancement properties.
After reviewing the autopsy, incident reports and toxicology tests, Ogan ruled the death was caused by excited delirium – but conceded that the theory was "poorly understood."
The excited delirium theory has come under recent scrutiny nationally as more focus has shifted to in-custody deaths, particularly deaths involving Tasers, neck holds and prone restraints.
"It’s junk science," said John Burris, a Bay Area civil rights attorney who’s representing Quinto’s family. "And that’s what’s so shocking about it that even the doctor recognizes it’s junk science but then he uses it as the basis to say it’s the cause of death here."
Burris recently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Antioch officers and police chief. He believes Quinto died from lack of oxygen.
The officers who restrained Quinto testified that they placed him on his stomach in a prone position for several minutes. The said two officers placed knees on his left shoulder while another officer restrained his legs.
The officers did not say they turned him on his side when he was handcuffed, which many departments train officers to do to prevent asphyxia.
The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office is investigating the case and has not made a decision on whether to file criminal charges.
Quinto’s family, meanwhile, is continuing with the civil case.
"We will not stop fighting for what we believe in and what my brother deserved, which is his life," Quinto’s sister, Bella Quinto Collins, said.