NAACP calls for federal investigation into death of handcuffed Ohio man who told police 'I can't breathe'

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The president of the NAACP is calling for a federal investigation into the death of a 53-year-old Black man who died after repeatedly telling officers from the Canton Police Department in Ohio “I can’t breathe” as they pinned him to the floor of a bar while he was handcuffed prone.

The death of Frank Tyson has drawn comparisons to the killing of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020.

In a letter first shared with NBC News and addressed to Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department, the NAACP said it was “deeply troubled by this horrific tragedy.”

“Without federal intervention, the police officers may not be held accountable for their actions,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in the letter. “We seek justice and accountability.”

The Canton Police Department declined to comment.

Aryele Bradford, a Justice Department spokesperson, confirmed receipt of the letter but declined to comment further.

A spokesperson for BCI, which has been asked to conduct an independent criminal investigation, did not comment on the NAACP’s letter, but said in a statement that the agency’s “investigations are not administrative and do not address any potential policy or procedural violations.”

In a nearly 36-minute body camera video of the April 18 encounter released last week by the police department, officers are seen apprehending Tyson at an AMVETS lodge. Officers had responded to a single-car crash nearby. When they entered the bar, officers were asked to remove Tyson, who refused to leave. He repeatedly said “They are trying to kill me” and “Call the sheriff.”

Police have said Beau Schoenegge and Camden Burch are the “two primary officers” who responded to the call. Both joined the department in 2022 and have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation under department policy.

Officers wrestled Tyson to the ground and handcuffed him. One of them is seen placing a knee on Tyson’s upper body for about 30 seconds, according to the video.

Tyson can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. You're on my neck.”

After the officer removes his knee, Tyson again says he can’t breathe, to which someone responds: “You’re fine. Shut the f--- up.”

The video shows Tyson lying motionless on the floor, face down for about six minutes, while at least one officer talks with bar patrons.

At one point the officer jokes: “I’ve always wanted to be in a bar fight. I don’t know if this counts.”

When the officers check on Tyson, he appears to be unresponsive. An officer checks him for a pulse, and officers later perform chest compressions on an unresponsive Tyson.

Canton police said in a news release that CPR and several doses of Narcan were administered before medics arrived and that Tyson was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:18 p.m. The police department contacted the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to conduct an independent investigation, which the bureau has said is still pending.

The NAACP said the officers showed a “callous disregard” to Tyson’s pleas, which “underscores the need for an urgent investigation.”

“Frank Tyson should be alive today,” Johnson said in a statement Wednesday. “Nearly 4 years after the tragic death of George Floyd, we are forced to bear witness to yet another unarmed Black man cry out for air at the hands of law enforcement.”

Bobby DiCello, one of the attorneys for Tyson’s family, told NBC News his loved ones are “very mindful of the importance of this case” and the memories it may evoke of Floyd’s killing. DiCello said Canton police disregarded Tyson’s humanity.

“It is outrageous that in 2024 an officer put their knee on anyone and that when he last spoke and said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ the last words he may have heard were, ‘You’re fine, eff you,’” DiCello said. “He may not have been able to discern that. That’s where the Canton officers said the quiet part of George Floyd’s death out loud. They’re saying the quiet part out loud. You can do it by your actions or you could tell it to their face.”

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