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Man with knife dead after struggle with California police

Reginald Thomas is seen in a photo obtained by CBS Los Angeles.

PASADENA, Calif. -- A man armed with a knife and later reported to be bipolar died after a struggle with Pasadena police officers who were called to an apartment following reports of a disturbance early Friday.

Police did not reveal the name of the man who died, but several family members identified him as Reginald Thomas, a father of eight.

In a 911 recording released late Friday, a male caller told the dispatcher that his brother Reginald was high and holding a knife under his armpit, but had not threatened those in the apartment with it.

When the dispatcher asked if his brother had any mental conditions, the caller didn’t know. Later he said his brother was known to be violent, contradicting claims other family members made later to reporters.

During the call early Friday, a brief struggle could be heard over the phone, with someone shouting, “get off me.”

Pasadena police Chief Phillip Sanchez said a fight ensued after the officers used a Taser on the man when he ignored their orders to drop the knife.

After he was subdued, officers noticed he wasn’t breathing and attempted to revive him, Sanchez said in a statement. Paramedics also tried but failed, and the man was pronounced dead at his apartment in a modest Pasadena neighborhood.

Several added that while Thomas had a long history of mental illness that included previous run-ins with police, he was not a violent person.

Some said they suspected police overreacted because Thomas was black. They noted the recent shootings of black men by officers around the country, although they acknowledged a gun had not been used in this instance.

“He was struggling with mental illness but the police know this,” said Thomas’ brother-in-law, Forrest Elder. “But he wasn’t treated as a patient or a victim. He was treated as a suspect, and that’s how they treat us.”

On Friday night, about 100 people marched from the apartment complex through the streets of Pasadena to the police department to protest Thomas’ death. Many carried candles or lighters or lit up their phones.

The group blocked roads and intersections but was otherwise peaceful.

Thomas’ wife, Shainie Lindsay, told CBS Los Angeles that her husband himself called police to their apartment about 2:30 a.m. Friday when he realized he needed help.

“He’s bipolar. He’s crazy,” Lindsay said, adding Thomas was holding a knife and a fire extinguisher when officers arrived.

“They know he’s on Social Security. They know he’s 5150,” Lindsay said, referring to the official code for a psychiatric confinement. “It’s not the first run-in with him. He called the police on himself. He wanted help.”

She said the two officers who responded to the scene ordered him to drop the items and twice used a Taser on him.

He eventually dropped the fire extinguisher, she said, but then Thomas retreated into a room and slammed the door on the officers, who managed to pry their way inside.

“They was wrestling with him, was kicking him in the head and beating him with the baton stick,” Lindsay said. “Then, after that, they was doing CPR and he was dead.”

Lindsay said she is the mother of four of Thomas’ eight children and is six months pregnant with another.

Elder said the children range in age from about 1 to 11. Elijah Floyd, who lives in an apartment just across a walkway from Thomas’ apartment, called him a doting, stay-at-home father who never caused neighbors any trouble.

The brother’s call reporting the family disturbance came at 2:35 a.m.

Grainy, black and white security camera footage released late Friday showed several officers with flashlights responding to the complex but did not appear to show the struggle that preceded the death.

Pasadena police asked Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide detectives to investigate Thomas’ death, and sheriff’s Capt. Steve Katz asked about three dozen friends and family members gathered outside the locked security building to remain calm while they do their work.

“I know you’re angry. I do. I get it. But it’s going to take time,”  Katz told one friend of Thomas, Jasmine Abdullah, wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and shouting angrily at police officers that they had murdered her lifelong friend.

“He was a good father. He had eight children. About to have nine. And when people aren’t well and call for help they’re supposed to get help. Not die,” she said.