By Shirin Rajaee

CITRUS HEIGHTS (CBS13) — The family of a Stockton man is searching for answers after their son ended up with severe burns while being detained by Citrus Heights Police.

Police say the man was acting erratically and resisting officers outside a local restaurant following an alleged attempted robbery on Friday. The burns 28-year old James Nelson suffered were due to him being pressed up against a hot pavement by officers.

“I’m sad, I’m hurt, my son didn’t deserve this,” said Tarsha Benigno.

For mom Tarsha and step-father Barry Benigno, the last few days have been agonizing seeing their son barely coming out of a coma with second- to third-degree burns on 40 percent of his body.

“He has a mental disability, and even if he was acting out, nobody deserves to be burned, his whole chest, neck, his face, all the way to his stomach, that’s extreme,” said Tarsha.

“I want accountability; I want them to show how they arrested, how long was he on the concrete, was he pushed on the concrete? I have no idea how this happened to my son,” she said.

“How can you go from an incident with police, to the hospital, and into a coma, and no one gives you any answers. My feeling is bewilderment. I don’t want to point fingers or accuse anyone, I just want answers,” said Barry Benigno.

This all stemmed from an interaction with Citrus Heights Police on Friday. Police released surveillance video from inside the KFC on Auburn Blvd and said that around 4, they got a call about Nelson acting erratically, and going after employees. According to police, the person who called 911 also reported the same man was in the parking lot attempting to open vehicle doors and was seen lying on the sidewalk, talking to himself.

“Here you can see in the video, the manager of the store appears, Mr. Nelson comes after him, grabs his waistband in an attempt to steal his wallet, swings at him, and assaults the manager,” said Lt. David Gutierrez with Citrus Heights Police.

He adds, “based on officer’s observations, in addition to erratic behavior, Nelson appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance.”

Gutierrez says officers tried to restrain him, but Nelson resisted.

“He attempted to flee, they eventually take him to the ground, continued to resist officers on the ground,” he said.

Police do admit Nelson suffered burns from the hot pavement but add that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. Temperatures in Citrus Heights around the time of his arrest were around 100 degrees.

“We don’t get to dictate where people resist arrest, he was only down long enough for us to restrain him,” said Lt. Gutierrez.

Gutierrez says he does not know how long Nelson was pinned down.

Police say earlier in the day they had contact with Nelson. He was involved in a car accident where he appeared to be at fault, and just an hour before the KFC incident they got a number of 911 calls about Nelson walking in front of moving vehicles. Police cited him for that then let him go.

“No one including us wants anyone to be injured during an interaction, that’s no our goal,” said Gutierrez.

But the family is not convinced. They said their son has a mental disability and officers could have handled this differently. Nelson’s mom says he hadn’t taken his medication which probably aggravated his disability.

“We’ll let the public decide, is this going too far?” said Benigno. “Does someone deserve this kind of treatment, for a disabled person having an episode? If that’s what happened, they should have arrested him, not tortured him,” he said.

Meanwhile, criminal charges including attempted robbery, being under the influence of a controlled substance, parole violation, and resisting arrest are currently pending.


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