EL PASO, Texas (KTSM/KTEP) – Just an hour before he died following a police encounter at the Lunch Box restaurant in East El Paso, Daniel Diaz texted his sister Gabriela. It read, “I love you.”
“Gabby found this in his bedroom after he passed. Right in the top words that she that he mentions here is love, courage, and loyalty. Sister, positive strength and reliable. That’s how he described Gabby. But when I see this, that’s how we describe him,” Diaz’s brother-in-law, Benjamin Miranda, said.
To his family, Danny, as they call him, was a younger brother, a brother-in-law, a son, and a jokester uncle.
“He always had hope. He wanted to one day start a homeless shelter,” sister Gabriela told KTSM.
The family says despite the challenges that came along with his mental illness and drug addiction, he had a huge heart.
“He was always looking at how to help other people that were in his same shoes. In the end, it’s true. He would give it would be a cold night on the street. He would take off his coat and his brand-new shoes and would give it to total strangers so they could be warm,” Ben said. “Then he’d show up on our doorstep, like, ‘What happened to your shoes?’”
On April 26, 2021, Diaz died during an encounter with police who attempted to restrain him inside the East El Paso restaurant. He had a high dose of methamphetamine in his system, and he was tased and beaten by seven officers.
His family remembers him as a man of faith who struggled with anxiety, depression, and drug addiction for most of his life.
“He sometimes would call and say, ‘Can you help me go to my therapy? Can you go help me find someone where I can get help?’ And, you know, and like many people that struggle with mental health illnesses or drug addictions, you know, he would be fine, and he would have all the support of the family,” according to Ben. “But then, as many people struggle with homelessness, he relapsed.”
Danny shared a meal with his sister and brother-in-law the day before his tragic passing at the Lunch Box.
“The day before he passed. We went to the restaurant where he died because he wanted to have menudo,” Ben says. “I think in his senses he went there because that was like a happy moment he had. And he was looking for us. And we think that’s why he was laid out there,” Gabriela explained.
They didn’t know this would be their last meal with him. The day after his death, they got a knock on the door that changed the family’s life.
“And what did the responding the notifying police officer say? He broke into the Lunch box, and when they arrested him when they were walking out, he just collapsed. Yeah. So that’s what they told us.”
But something didn’t feel right to the family.
Diaz’s family describes themselves as “bleeding blue.” They’re a law enforcement family. His father served over 30 years for the El Paso Sheriff’s Department, retiring as a decorated detective. His brother-in-law was military police for over 24 years.
“So immediately, my father-in-law’s instinct was to investigate what happened to his son, right? As a promised detective. Naturally. What is that going to do?” Ben said.
The family requested documents from the City of El Paso. An autopsy report, video footage, and anything showing how and why Diaz died. After being ignored for months, they were not pleased with the outcome.
They received only a one-page report giving them basic details from the day he died.
About a year after Diaz’s death, they hired attorneys, paying thousands of dollars for what they believed should have cost much less through an Open Records Request.
The City denied them records, citing an open investigation within the El Paso Police Department. The family e-mailed then-District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’ office requesting the status of the investigation within the DA’s office and were told there was no case in their office.
State Judge Melissa Baeza ultimately ordered the City to release documents in January 2023, almost two years after Diaz died.
“We believe they were stonewalling us because there is a statute of limitations to bring any type of lawsuit to the City,” Ben said.
Diaz’s brother-in-law was the one who reviewed and analyzed all of the documents. As a law enforcement officer in the military for over 20 years, he claims officers showed excessive force.
“I mean, patrol person did not truly understand how to recognize in the state that Danny was maybe because of lack of training or lack of education, did not know how to properly de-escalate a situation that was not escalated at the beginning,” says Ben. “They should have handcuffed them, escorted him out, put him in jail. If he broke in, if he did, in fact, did breaking and entering. Police officers made a conscious decision to beat him, to strike him in the head, to strike him in the torso, to kick him.”
Diaz’s family wonders whether the El Paso Police Department’s policies are too lax when it comes to the use of force.
“If it’s allowed by policy, the police responding, police officers can strike people in the head.
Then we should probably be having a conversation about should police officers be allowed to hit people in the head or not.”
The family also questions the ethics within the police department.
“Those police officers that were that were on top of Danny, that none of those police officers, none of those seven police officers, not one of them had the courage to say, ‘Guys. Ladies, enough. Stop.’”
During their two-year fight for records from the City of El Paso, there was only one goal: finding the truth.
“We support law enforcement. We love our community and stress it again. We’re not calling riots. We’re not calling for people to protest. We’re definitely not calling for people to go and harm our first responders because we love them. They’re here to protect us. But we have to ensure that there’s accountability and trust in education in our systems.”
The family is now calling on the City and Police to uphold transparency and for all El Pasoans to know their rights while grieving their beloved Danny.
They are moving forward with a foundation in Danny’s name– “Danny’s Boys.” They plan to fundraise to educate, provide services, and provide for the needs of men dealing with mental health illnesses and substance abuse.
They hope the story of who Danny truly was never fades.
“There’s healing, and we trust in God that he’s going to heal our family. We know for a fact that we’re going to see Danny in heaven one of these days, hopefully not soon.
One of these days, we will. And if you know, he’s watching, and he’s seen us, that’s why we want to honor him. We want to honor Danny by giving back to our community, not by destroying a community.”