Ex-husband and former colleagues of Little Italy woman shot dead by San Diego law enforcement during eviction say authorities acted irrationally and failed to acknowledge that she was in the midst of a mental health crisis.
San Diego police and deputies have opened up about Yan Li, 47, after she charged them with a knife and stabbed an officer. Their first contact with Li that day, March 3, was when deputies served him with an eviction notice at his apartment on W. Beech Street.
Li’s ex-husband, who did not want to be identified by name, told NBC 7 that Li struggled with bipolar disorder and sought psychiatric treatment in San Diego and China after his diagnosis in 2010.
He said she once isolated herself in her condo on W. Beech Street in 2020 without a phone or internet and did not answer her mail or recognize her family members. The two have a son and this remained close until 2020.
Li received her doctorate from the Yale School of Public Health.
After seeing the body camera footage of Li’s death released earlier this month, Yale School of Public Health Dean Dr. Sten Vermund and a fellow Yale educator who was also the mentor of Li, were forced to write a opinion piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department released video of a fatal shooting in Little Italy last week.
“These are signs, I think, of an irrational response and a person in considerable crisis,” Vermund said of recalling the incident. “It’s a red flag that probably repeats itself over and over again in our country, but not every individual is a Yale PhD biostatistician who has had a distinguished career in the pharmaceutical industry.”
Dr. Vermund said Li worked for pharmaceutical companies testing the effectiveness of drugs.
“Her colleagues at Yale remember her as a very pleasant and hardworking person. Quite a bright mind,” he said.
When a deputy from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department knocked on Li’s door to serve the eviction notice, Li opened the door with a knife in hand. The deputy pulled out his handgun, and Li ignored several orders from the deputy to drop the knife. She shouted that she feared the deputy was an impostor before closing her door.
The San Diego Police Department said the Psychological Emergency Response Team (PERT) was called to the scene, but they had not arrived by the time deputies made contact with Li a second time.
SDPD deputies and officers attempted to communicate with Li through her front door for 45 minutes but were unable to get her to cooperate, investigators say.
“I don’t question the police, but when you see this indication of mental confusion, then why not think of it as a mental health issue?” Dr Vermund said.
Li’s ex-husband said law enforcement failed to recognize Li was suffering from a mental breakdown and escalated the situation. Dr. Vermund agreed.
“Responding to him as a mental health professional would is a lost opportunity, and now a lost life,” added Dr. Vermund.
On the day of the shooting, James Dean, a former member of the resort’s HOA board of directors, told NBC 7 that Li was emotionally and mentally ill, had frequent loud and incoherent outbursts, and was well known to the SDPD.
“When I saw the cops with guns drawn outside his door, I knew this was coming and I’m so frustrated,” Dean said. “I just knew force wasn’t going to be the answer. You have to talk to the person.”
Li had threatened a building guard the day before the shooting, according to the SDPD.
The officer who was stabbed was treated at UC San Diego Medical Center and released. He was wearing a body armor but was stabbed above in his upper chest, according to Dobbs.
The shooting is being investigated by the SDPD Homicide Unit. Once the investigation is complete, it will be reviewed by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office to determine if the officers bear criminal liability for their actions.
SDPD leader David Nisleit would not comment on the investigation on Tuesday.