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Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales met Tuesday morning with the mother and brothers of Damian Daniels, a Black man killed Aug. 25 by sheriff’s deputies responding to a call for a mental health check.
Lee Merritt, a nationally recognized civil rights lawyer who has represented the families of slain Black men Ahmaud Arbery and Botham Jean, met with Gonzales for just over an hour and a half Tuesday morning with Annette Daniels, Damian’s mother, and Alvin and Brennan Daniels, his brothers,
The meeting went well, and Gonzales told the Daniels family he agrees that some actions could have been handled differently, Merritt said.
Shortly after the meeting, Gonzales’ office issued a statement that said he used the time to explain to the Daniels family that the sheriff’s office is still investigating the shooting and has not filed its case with his office for review.
“Mental health is a crisis that needs to be addressed by people outside the criminal justice system,” Gonzales said in the statement. “We hope to be able to provide answers to the family of Mr. Daniels once we have received and reviewed this shooting and have presented it to a Grand Jury.”
Merritt said the DA told the family that getting the case to a grand jury would take at least six months and that he and the Daniels family believe Gonzales has made “the first right step.”
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office reported multiple mental health calls regarding Daniels starting Aug. 24, and Sheriff Javier Salazar has said the family called his office about Daniels having suicidal thoughts. It was during the second of two welfare checks by deputies on Aug. 25 that one of them killed the combat veteran after attempting to take his gun.
The circumstances surrounding Daniels’ death are still unclear and the sheriff’s office has “put out a lot of misinformation,” Merritt said. He said what is known at this time is that Daniels had been at his own home, was legally armed, and had committed no crime.
The Daniels family has decided to publicly decline a meeting with the sheriff’s office, Merritt said.
“We understand that the sheriff has already made statements that he felt that his officers did a great job,” Merritt said. “We find that offensive. Find that absurd. To get [Damian] help would have been a great job … not to kill him.”
After his meeting with the DA, Merritt told reporters and a dozen Black Lives Matter demonstrators Tuesday that Brennan Daniels had first called the American Red Cross upon learning about his brother’s distress, hoping the organization could help handle the situation because he didn’t think law enforcement involvement was appropriate.
American Red Cross officials in turn contacted the sheriff’s office, Merritt said.
Family members said this was Daniels’ first mental health crisis and that he had never shown any suicidal tendencies, Merritt said.
“The family had the understanding, initially, that they had Mr. Daniels in custody, or were preparing to take them into custody to take him to get additional care,” Merritt said. “That was what was indicated to them by law enforcement. A short time later, law enforcement called to tell them their son had been killed.”
The family will be seeking information on the deputy who shot and killed Daniels and body camera footage from the event, Merritt said.
“A wellness check should not be a death sentence,” Merritt said.
Should a grand jury decide not to indict, the family will continue to seek justice through the legal process, Merritt said.
“Losing a loved one is traumatic,” Annette Daniels said in a statement. “To see a loved one who is in clear crisis, be senselessly murdered, after serving his country, is unbearable. We pleaded for help. They gave us death.”