Polk Co. family reacts to mentally-ill man being killed by deputies

Polk County

FROSTPROOF, Fla. (WFLA) – A sister is in grief after a call for help ended in gunshots.

“I don’t even know how to bury somebody. I wasn’t planning to bury my own brother. He was my big brother,” said Brittany Mejia.

Mejia knew her brother, Yoel Arnaldo Mejia Santel, 28, wasn’t perfect.

He had been staying with her in Frostproof since he got out of prison in the spring.

“He was a good person. Yes, he had prior cases and stuff like that but he was trying to change, he was trying to do better for himself,” she said.

Yoel Arnaldo Mejia Santel
Courtesy Brittany Mejia

She called 911 Wednesday night during an altercation with her brother.

He suffered from mental illness and communicated that to responding deputies, she said.

“It shouldn’t be where now we have to be afraid to ask for help. We want it to be that we can ask for help and we get the help we need,” said Mejia.

Deputies spent close to an hour trying to talk Santel down, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

He told them he had poured gasoline all over the house and had a lighter with him.

At one point, Santel retreated into a bathroom with a machete, Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Deputies, the sheriff said, tried to use a non-flammable chemical agent to draw him out.

“They throw a can in. Has no effect,” said Sheriff Judd. “They throw another can in the bathroom and he reaches down and he throws the can back at them.”

The sheriff said Santel charged at the deputies with a machete.

He died after being fired at 18 times.

The deputies involved are trained in crisis intervention.

The idea that mental health counselors would help is an “illusion,” according to Sheriff Judd.

“We are the best-trained people in a crisis, not a mental health counselor who is used to a more clinical setting,” he said.

All deputies involved, 40-year-old Lieutenant Kenneth Hill, a 20-year veteran of PCSO; 36-year-old Sergeant Joshua Anderson, a 15-year veteran of PCSO, and 49-year-old Deputy Sheriff Sarah Taylor, a 10-year veteran of PCSO, are on paid administrative pending several investigations.

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