The parents of Erik Cantu, the 17-year-old boy shot by a San Antonio police officer in a McDonald's parking lot on Oct. 2, spoke publicly for the first time on Tuesday.
“He’s just mutilated," his mother, Victoria Casarez, said. "It hurts us to see our son that way."
Three weeks after the shooting, Cantu is continuing "to fight for his life," and remains hospitalized in critical condition and on life support, attorney Ben Crump said at the news conference.
The night of Oct. 2, Cantu had been sitting in his car with a friend, eating a burger in the parking lot of a McDonald's, when a police officer threw open the driver's side door, wrongly believing it to be a vehicle that had fled from him the day before.
"Get out of the car," Officer James Brennand can be heard saying in body camera footage. Brennand offered the teenager no explanation for why he was being stopped. Cantu attempted to shut the door and drive away. Brennand then immediately opened fire, shooting his gun 10 times. (Warning: video of the incident is disturbing.)
Cantu suffered multiple gunshot wounds. His friend, a 17-year-old girl, was not injured.
Brennand, who had been a police officer for just seven months, was fired two days after the shooting. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told News 4 San Antonio there was "nothing [he] can say in defense of that officer’s actions that night." He has since been charged with two felony counts of aggravated assault by a public servant, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
A lawyer representing Brennand could not immediately be reached for comment.
At the Tuesday news conference, Cantu's mother recounted the horrifying moment she learned what had happened to her son.
"Imagine getting a phone call on a Sunday night when you’re getting ready for bed, and you answer it. You don’t want to think it’s one of your kids," Casarez said. "You don’t recognize the number, so you answer it. It’s a hospital. The hospital is saying, 'Sorry, we need you to get here as soon as you can, your son is asking for you. He’s been shot — he’s been shot by police.'"
"Imagine getting that phone call," she said. "Imagine racing over to the hospital, not knowing what to expect."
She also recalled being shown the body camera footage, which she said includes Cantu begging for her moments after being shot. "He was calling for his mom. 'I just want Mom, Mom.' That’s the most painful thing to watch," she said.
Cantu's condition is still "very touch and go," his father, Erik Cantu Sr., said. He is being treated for multiple gunshot wounds, including ones to the stomach, lungs, and liver. There is a bullet lodged in his chest, just below his heart, that is still too dangerous to remove.
He has also contracted pneumonia, Cantu Sr. said. Doctors are treating him with narcotics, including fentanyl, which he needs to stay alive and comfortable, but are simultaneously trying to wean him off them so as not to obstruct his breathing. Without the drugs, though, Cantu faces great risk of going into cardiac arrest.
Sometimes, Erik wakes up having hallucinations, Cantu Sr. said, during which they can see him "raising his hands, trying to press the pedal to the car, and pushing gun symbols" with his hands.
"These are the things we have to see daily," he said.
The family is raising money to assist with Erik's recovery on GoFundMe. Casarez said they want Brennand charged with two counts of attempted murder and hope to see charges for any more officers who were involved.
"Also, I’d like to see former Officer Brennand behind bars right now," she said. "It’s not safe with him out there.”
Crump said "there is no question" that Brennand "profiled this young Hispanic teenager."
"You cannot justify this unjustifiable, unconstitutional excessive use of force on this young 17-year-old child who was doing everything right," Crump said. "He graduated from high school early. He had ambitions to be a businessman. He wanted to follow his parents' footsteps."