FROSTPROOF, Fla. – Polk County deputies shot and killed a man armed with a machete late Wednesday during an incident described by the sheriff as “suicide by cop.”
Sheriff Grady Judd said a sergeant, lieutenant and two deputies responded to a home just before 7 p.m. near Frostproof after Yoel Arnaldo Mejia Santel’s sister called deputies saying her brother was out of control and had battered her.
Mejia Snatel, 28, had served more than five years in Florida state prison prior to being released and moved in with his sister at a home on Freedom Drive.
Judd said the deputies who responded were all trained in crisis intervention and with more than 45 years of experience.
“For 47 minutes they tried to reason with him, they tried to de-escalate,” Judd said.
After failed negotiations, Mejia Santel retreated into a bathroom of the home with a machete and asked deputies if they “smelled the gasoline” and threatened to burn the house down, according to Judd. He had a red lighter in his hand and was making repeated threats, authorities said.
Deputies attempted to use a can of clear out, a chemical agent, to draw out Mejia Santel, but it had not impact. They threw another can and he threw it back, Judd said.
When a deputy reached down to pick up the can, Mejia Santel charged the deputies, according to the sheriff. When Mejia Santel got within four feet of the deputies they opened fire, two deputies shooting six times.
Deputies immediately performed CPR and first aid but he the 28-year-old died on scene around 9 p.m.
“He is deceased because of his bad choice,” Judd said, later adding “none of my deputies are going to stand by and let him run a machete through them” and “we did everything possible to avoid that outcome.”
The sheriff said, at the time, the deputies did not know about Mejia Santel’s mental health history, including two cases of being held under the Baker Act in 2013 and 2014 for trying to kill himself. Judd said Mejia Santel had recently been searching online for “suicide by cop."
Judd said for two weeks, Mejia Santel had been threatening to “blow himself up” and threatening his sister.
The sheriff said he wished he could give his deputies “pixie dust” to “make things well” when dealing with persons with mental health issues. His deputies would have continued to negotiate with Mejia Santel if he hadn’t charged with them with a machete, according to Judd.
“We are the best trained people in a crisis, not a mental health counselor who is used to a more clinical setting," Judd said. "There’s this illusion that if we just had a mental health counseling, well, if mental health counselors just worked we wouldn’t be in the situations we’re placed.”
Both deputies who opened fire are on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which is standard procedure.