POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A machete-wielding man with mental health issues was shot 18 times Wednesday by Florida deputies who said they tried to reason with him for nearly an hour.
Polk County Sheriff’s deputies were called after Yoel Arnaldo Mejia Santel attacked his sister around 7 p.m., officials said. Investigators said Santel, 28, who was paranoid and likely schizophrenic, told his sister that if she called authorities they would have to shoot him because he was armed with a machete.
“For 47 minutes they tried to reason with him,” Sheriff Grady Judd said, the Lakeland Ledger reported. “They tried to deescalate, and at one point they tried to position themselves close enough to reach in and grab him. But he fell back away from them, picked up a machete and retreated to the bathroom.”
Shortly later, Lt. Kenneth Hill, Sgt. Joshua Anderson, and deputy Sarah Taylor, could smell gasoline. All three deputies are certified in crisis intervention, Judd said.
They asked Santel to get out of the bathroom.
Santel, holding a red lighter, replied, “Did you smell that gas? I poured gas everywhere.”
Deputies put away their stun guns, worried the electricity from them could spark the gasoline, the Ledger reported. They threw two cans of a chemical agent to get Santel out of the bathroom. Santel grabbed one and threw it back. When a deputy reached for the can, Santel ran from the bathroom and charged at deputies holding the machete over his head. That’s when deputies opened fire, each firing six shots. Deputies then performed life-saving techniques and called for paramedics. Santel was pronounced dead at the scene.
“There is no doubt, law enforcement is a dangerous job,” Judd said. " When deputies respond to a family disturbance, they do everything they can to de-escalate the situation and bring about a peaceful conclusion. Unfortunately, Santel put them in a position where they had to protect themselves and those around them."
Santel was committed under the state’s Baker Act in 2013 for trying to cut his wrist, the Ledger reported. The Baker Act is a Florida law that allows people with mental illness to be held for evaluation for 72 hours at a treatment center. Santel also has previously been arrested for 12 felonies and three misdemeanors including burglary, theft, and various drug possession charges, investigators said. He was released in May from a Florida state prison after serving 5 1/2 years for violation of probation. Santel was living with his sister because of his recent prison release. A glass pipe that tested positive for methamphetamine residue was found in his bedroom.
“He was committing a criminal act, he was irrational, he had anger management issues, he had mental health issues and he had drug issues,” Judd said. “That is a cocktail for a very bad situation.”
There will be four independent investigations related to the shooting; Polk County Sheriff’s Office homicide detectives will conduct a death investigation; the sheriff’s office administrative investigation unit will conduct an administrative inquiry; the State Attorney’s Office will conduct its own investigation and the medical examiner will determine the cause and manner of death.
The deputies will be on administrative leave with pay, which is department policy.
Cox Media Group