• Officer in brawl with pastor, family says he was choked so hard he couldn't breathe

    By: Raisa Habersham, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Updated:

    LILBURN, Ga. - When a Lilburn police officer responded to a missing person rescue call at a church last month, he had no idea he’d practically be fighting for his life

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    “I was slammed against the glass door, hitting my head very hard against the glass,” Sgt. Ryan Long said in at a preliminary hearing for the Cruz family on Tuesday. “Mr. (Wilmer) Cruz was choking me to the point I couldn't breathe.” 

    On March 25, Long and several other officers fought with Cruz, 38, his wife Cristina Cruz and their 17-year-old son Wilmer Cruz Jr. in the parking lot of the family’s church, Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica. The brawl was caught on police body cameras and cellphones. 

    Authorities said they got a call about a missing girl in the 4800 block of Lawrenceville Highway. They went to rescue the girl, who was in a tan Cadillac Escalade, but things escalated.

    >> Related: Week before police brawl, restraining order filed against minister’s wife

    Long testified he put his Taser in Wilmer Cruz’s back, but Cristina Cruz grabbed it from his hand and pointed it at the officer. 

    “I grabbed Mrs. Cruz by the arm and told her she was under arrest for grabbing my Taser,” Long said. “She refused and would only say: ‘Jesus love(s) me.’” 

    After Cristina Cruz was arrested, Wilmer Cruz and Wilmer Cruz Jr. were seen in the video pinning Long against a door, the officer testified. One of the sons was also seen on video taking an officer’s radio.

    Long testified the family likely fought back because they believed: “Officers were not allowed to fight back against them.” The family also threatened to kill his mom, Long said. 

    At the center of the brawl was the missing girl, since returned to her mother, and believed to be pregnant by the Cruz’s 17-year-old son. Robles called officers to the church regarding her daughter. 

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    A week before the brawl, the girl’s mother, Ana Cardenas Robles, filed a restraining order against Cristina Cruz on March 19, alleging the minister’s wife stalked her and threatened her with deportation and refused to let her have contact with her teenage daughter. 

    But an attorney for the Cruz family argued in court Robles congratulated Wilmer Cruz Jr. on the pregnancy and allowed her daughter to stay with the family. 

    The family was denied bond in court. 

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