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Questions Remain About Man Who Stopped Breathing in Police Custody

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Six months after the death of a man who stopped breathing in a Cedar Rapids police car, his family still has many unanswered questions.

Paul R. Saldivar, 33, of Cedar Rapids, died May 17, one week after he lost consciousness while in police custody. Officials have said there were no obvious signs that any officers abused their powers, but the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has been reviewing the incident.

Saldivar's sister, Paulette Gandara, told The Gazette the unusually long investigation has been "heartbreaking" and has kept the family from finding closure.

"I just want to be able to lay him to rest, and I know we can't until we know what happened," Gandara said Friday. "It's hard, and every day it gets harder and harder, the longer we don't have any answers."

According to Cedar Rapids police, an officer was making a business check at Hazzard County Saloon, 315 Second Ave. SE, around 11 p.m. on May 10 when patrons pointed out Saldivar and said he had been "causing problems." Following a short foot chase, Saldivar became "verbally agitated" when he was told he was being arrested for public intoxication, police said.

Sgt. Cristy Hamblin, a police spokeswoman, said Saldivar hit his head against the arm rest of the door as he was being handcuffed, and continued to be combative when he was in the back of the squad car. Shortly before the officer arrived at the Linn County Jail, Saldivar became quiet, and the officer realized he was unconscious, Hamblin said.

CPR was performed, and an ambulance transported Saldivar to Mercy Medical Center, but he never regained consciousness. Doctors found significant swelling in his brain, but were not able to identify the cause of it, Gandara said. Family decided to remove life support a few days later.

Few details have been released about the DCI investigation, but officials have confirmed that officers did not use a Taser or other less-than-lethal weapon while taking Saldivar into custody. All of the officers involved in Saldivar's arrest have remained working.

DCI Special Agent Bill Kietzman said his agency finished its investigation about three weeks ago, and per protocol, forwarded the results to Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden for his review. Vander Sanden would decide if any criminal charges are applicable.

"We kind of know how things look, but it's not our call," Kietzman said.

Cedar Rapids Police Lt. Brent Long, who leads the internal affairs division, said the DCI has kept him informed about their investigation. He said an internal investigation would be conducted to determine if any policies were violated, but not until Vander Sanden announces his decision.

Vander Sanden, involved in a murder trial this week, said the case is "under review," but declined further comment.

As a part of the autopsy, Gandara said her brother's brain was analyzed at an Iowa City lab, and his heart was tested at a lab on the East Coast. The results of those tests took several weeks. She said the family has since received the final autopsy results, but she declined to say what was identified as the cause of death because the investigation is still ongoing.

"All I can say is that it doesn't make sense," Gandara said.

Saldivar's death was one of three public deaths in his extended family in the past four years. His brother Jesse "Indio" Saldivar was shot and killed outside of a Missouri bar in July 2008. This past September, their cousin, 25-year-old James Tamayo, was found dead in a vacant lot. His cause of death was ruled accidental, police said.

Gandara said she will remember the love Paul had for his family, especially his nieces and nephews. She said he was "a kid himself."

"It's hard," said Gandara, fighting back tears. "It's very, very hard. I miss him every day."

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