A police officer in upstate New York has been charged with assault in the death last year of a mental health detainee who went limp and unresponsive after the officer allegedly pressed a foot on the man’s neck area and slammed his head onto a hospital floor.
Elmira Police Officer Eduardo Oropallo was arraigned Wednesday in connection with the August 2019 death of 49-year-old Gary Strobridge. Prosecutors did not seek bail. Elmira Police Chief Joseph Kane said Oropallo is on paid administrative leave.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who acts as a special prosecutor appointed to investigate certain deaths involving police, said her office concluded there was sufficient evidence to bring the case to a grand jury, which voted last week to indict Oropallo.
It’s only the third case out of more than 40 deaths investigated by James’ office since 2015 that has resulted in criminal charges against a police officer.
Online court records did not list a lawyer representing Oropallo in the criminal case. A message seeking comment was left with the officer’s defense lawyer in a civil lawsuit filed that Strobridge’s family filed in August against him, other officers and the city and the police department.
A message was also left with the lawyer for Strobridge’s family. The police department said it was referring questions to the state attorney general’s office.
Strobridge, described by a family lawyer as a down-on-his-luck musician and artist in need of help, died after police said he attacked an officer while at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira following a mental health arrest.
According to the family’s lawsuit, Oropallo braced himself against a wall or door jamb and violently pressed his foot into Strobridge’s neck or head area, causing him to grunt. The officer then grabbed Strobridge by the hair on the back of his head and slammed his head and face into the floor twice, yelling, “Gary, stop resisting!” the lawsuit said.
Charging documents in the criminal case describe Oropallo’s “striking Mr. Strobridge’s face against the hospital floor,” which is referred to as a “dangerous instrument.”
Police were called to Strobridge’s home as he was in the throes of a mental health crisis that involved him climbing up to his roof, hanging out of a window while screaming that it was the end of the world, chasing a neighbor and punching a police officer, the family’s lawsuit said. He was subdued with a stun gun and taken into custody.
At the hospital, according to the lawsuit, Strobridge was noted to be delusional, agitated, anxious, and exhibiting poor judgment.
Police said at one point Strobridge’s behavior suddenly changed and he attacked an officer, causing them to restrain him.
The family’s lawsuit doesn’t mention an attack, alleging that Stobridge was taken to the ground by officers and handcuffed after he wandered into a hallway from an exam room where they’d left him unattended and unrestrained.
Oropallo grew up in the region joined the Elmira Police Department in 2014.
Elmira officials said at the time of his hiring that he had previously worked for the New York City and Corning police departments, was a court officer in Steuben County and served in the U.S. Army. The NYPD confirmed Wednesday that Oropallo was on its payroll from 2006 to 2008.