Attorney: Man tazed, beaten in police custody suffered from mental illness; his death is a homicide
SHREVEPORT, la. (AP) — The family of a black man who died in police custody in Louisiana after a videotaped altercation that appears to show officers hitting and tasing him demanded answers Wednesday, calling on the officers to be held accountable.
The family and a lawyer representing them spoke to the media outside the courthouse in the northern city of Shreveport, days after video surfaced showing the encounter between four police officers and Tommie McGlothen Jr. on April 5. McGlothen died the next day.
“We have a hole in our heart and in our family that will never be filled again. And I want justice for my brother,” said his sister Laquita.
McGlothen’s death comes at a time of massive protests nationwide in which people are demonstrating against police treatment of black people and racial discrimination. The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died May 25 in an encounter with Minneapolis police.
In a video, Floyd can be heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” as he’s pinned to the pavement by a white Minneapolis police officer who put a knee on his neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving.
The video in McGlothen’s case came to light Monday. In the 4 1/2 minute video, obtained by KSLA station and shot off of the cellphone of a person who the station said witnessed the altercation, officers can be seen wrestling with a man on the ground, with at least one officer punching him repeatedly and another appearing to hit him with a baton. A voice can be heard saying that the officers were using a Taser on the man. The man can be seen kicking at police officers.
At one point police get the man to his feet with his hands appearing to be handcuffed behind him and he immediately falls or is pushed backward to the ground. After getting him up again, they then walk him over to the police vehicle, push him against it and his head hits the hood.
A lawyer for the family, James Carter, described the death as a homicide and suggested the four officers seen on the video should face murder charges. He called for them to be immediately fired and said that until the video surfaced Monday they had been working their jobs. The city’s police chief announced Monday that they had been put on leave pending an investigation but he did not indicate when that happened.
The district attorney, James E. Stewart Sr., said in a news release that he received the police’s investigation of the case on May 29 but faulted the quality of the investigation, saying there were “missing reports, statements, downloads, and other vital information.” The police have not responded to requests for information.
Carter said he fears a cover-up.
“It should be homicide. Murder. We know that,” Carter said. “We believe that this was a homicide committed by law enforcement. ... It is not how our justice system is supposed to work.”
Police arrived at a Shreveport home April 5 after McGlothen blocked a driveway and followed a homeowner into his house, according to Dr. Todd Thoma, the coroner.
Police reported McGlothen was “mumbling incoherently” and “exhibiting signs of paranoia and emotional disturbance,” the coroner said. The coroner said it should have been obvious that McGlothen “needed medical care.”
Thoma said the police used Tasers, mace and nightsticks to control McGlothen, who had fought with a homeowner.
According to the coroner, McGlothen was left in the back of a police vehicle for 48 minutes before it was discovered that he was unresponsive and not breathing and that after such a violent confrontation there should have been a more thorough evaluation. He said McGlothen died of natural causes but that his death might have been prevented.
Carter said McGlothen suffered from both schizophrenia and depression and that law enforcement should have followed procedures for dealing with mentally ill people.
Carter also lashed out at the coroner’s description of the cause of death.
Thoma said McGlothen died of natural causes — specifically excited delirium. In a news release in which he quoted from the American Medical Association, Thoma describes excited delirium as the sudden death of individuals “who are combative and in a highly agitated state” and who have exhibited “agitation, excitability, paranoia, aggression and apparent immunity to pain, often associated with stimulant use and certain psychiatric disorders.”
He said the injuries McGlothen suffered from police, or from the confrontation with the homeowner, were not life-threatening.
“Mr. McGlothen had underlying heart disease and clearly was suffering from excited delirium. The combination of these factors caused his death,” Thoma said. His decision was based on autopsy and toxicology results, McGlothen’s medical history and review of police and witness statements and videos, he said.
But Carter attacked the concept of excited delirium, saying it was “junk science” that is often used to justify deaths in police custody.