Local News

Family: Durham deputy beat up man with Alzheimer's

Posted June 23, 2010 6:22 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2010 6:53 p.m. EDT

— A Durham family claims a deputy used unnecessary force against an elderly man with Alzheimer's on Tuesday, but the Durham County Sheriff's Office maintains that the deputy had no way of knowing the man suffered from the debilitating illness.

Justo Santander, 78, wandered away from home Tuesday evening. He later showed up outside a home more than 12 miles away, startling the homeowner, who called 911.

"There's a man outside my house. He's a Mexican man. I don't know who he is. I don't know how he got back here. He won't leave," the woman told the 911 dispatcher.

Sheriff's Capt. Donald Ladd said the man mumbled and seemed confused when the deputy questioned him. The deputy, whose name wasn't released, also couldn't see what was in Santander's hand, Ladd said.

"The item that this individual had in his hand was a tube, OK, which also has the resemblance of a handgun," he said.

After asking the man to drop the item, the deputy tried to handcuff him, and a struggle ensued, Ladd said.

"The individual ended up on the ground first with the officer on top of him," he said.

Santander's family says he speaks limited English. They also said he was wearing medical tags, but Ladd said they were tucked inside his shirt and the deputy couldn't see them.

It wasn't until later the deputy realized the man had Alzheimer's, Ladd said. Santander was the subject of a Silver Alert last year under a different last name, authorities said.

"Our heart goes out to this family. Our heart goes out to this individual," Ladd said.

Santander was listed in good condition Wednesday at Duke University Hospital after suffering a black eye, a cut on his face and bruised shoulders, neck and ribs.

The family acknowledged that they didn't report Santander missing. Ladd said such notification could have alerted the deputy to his identity.

Still, family members said they plan to consult with attorneys about the incident.

"For a person his age, suffering from Alzheimer's, it was ridiculous the beating he got," said his granddaughter, Adela Gomez. "It's too much. It's just too much."