Man in handcuffs escapes custody, jumps to death at Graton Casino

A young man who committed suicide early Monday morning while in handcuffs has been identified as Geoffrey Bertagnolli, 24.

Bertagnolli threw himself off the top of the 5-story parking garage at Graton Rancheria Casino in Rohnert Park. 

Only moments before, Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies had snatched him off the same ledge and subdued him.

"What concerns me, is how did he get away, with several sheriffs there," said Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris. 

Bertagnolli was newly married, with ties to Napa, but recently living in Nevada. 

"We watched him, he walked around, he didn't touch anything, he didn't bother anybody, " said Sarris, describing how casino security kept an eye on Bertagnolli for about an hour after he arrived.  

He came to the casino alone and on foot, didn't gamble, eat, or talk to anyone, just walked around the gaming floor. 

Security followed as he made his way to the parking structure, where he told them he wanted to kill himself. 

"Our staff did everything they possibly could," said Sarris, "and they talked him away from the ledge and down, but obviously things didn't go so well once the sheriff got here." 

Seven deputies arrived, without lights or sirens, to find Bertagnolli on the four-foot wall. By then, his wife had arrived and was trying to console him. 

In a moment of distraction, deputies were able to get hold of him.   

"Some of our deputies stepped in and heroically grabbed him and pulled him off the edge," Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick told KTVU. 

Next, Bertagnolli was handcuffed behind his back for his own protection. 

He was not under arrest, but detained for medical reasons, and the next stop would have been the hospital for evaluation. 

As he was led to a patrol car, deputies thought they had established rapport with him.      

"They were talking about what was going on with him, but he broke away from the deputy escorting him, and ran back to the edge of the parking garage and jumped off," said Essick.

The sheriff says the incident will be reviewed, and expressed condolences to Bertagnolli's family. 

De-escalation, he says, is always challenging because you never know what someone's intentions really are.  

"We thought we were getting positive feedback from him, we had talked to him for a few minutes, and felt we had some resolution to the case, but clearly there was not," Essick said.

Sarris agreed that Bertagnolli bolted in an instant. 

"He turned at the right time, twisted at the right time, and he got away," said Sarris, "and I'm sure the sheriffs did everything they could, this was just a fluke accident."

It's the second death on Graton Casino property. 

In 2017, a confrontation erupted in the parking lot, stemming from a door ding. 

A Lake County man is serving prison time for shoving another man backward, causing him to fall, and suffer a fatal head injury. 

Bertagnolli's distress had no connection to the casino.

He told first-responders he was dealing with depression and loss in his life.  

He had worked, until last year, for a Santa Rosa roofing company.

His boss says he had high hopes for Bertagnolli, who was well-liked and a hard worker, but troubled.
Bertagnolli left his job abruptly, he said to deal with "personal issues," and did not return.  

He has an arrest record for drugs in Ohio, where he grew up, but no arrests in Sonoma County. 

Sarris expressed regret, that such determined efforts to prevent the suicide, didn't change the outcome. 

"Is there more we could have done, more that any of us can do, he had his whole life ahead of him, what could we do?" he asked. "It would have been wonderful if we had been able to take him downstairs, off the fifth floor, talk to him, and have the sheriff take him safely to help."