Video shows death of man, 27, in police custody; chief offers to resign
The police chief in Tucson, Arizona, offered his resignation Wednesday upon the public release of a video showing the death of a 27-year-old man in police custody.
Mayor Regina Romero said in a statement Thursday that she believes Chief Chris Magnus should not resign, instead praising him for bringing forward "thinking changes" to his department.
"After listening to the feedback of my colleagues on the Council, I do not believe the Chief should resign," she said.
The mayor said that, in any case, it would be up to the city manager to accept any resignation.
Magnus' offer to resign came at a news conference two days after a video of the in-custody death was shown to the Tucson City Council.
Magnus said at the news conference that police had failed to disclose the death of Carlos Ingram-Lopez on April 21 in a timely manner, even though the department had been investigating the incident.
He said Ingram-Lopez’s grandmother had called police about 1 a.m. April 21 “and told the police operator that her grandson was drunk, yelling and running around the house naked.”
“When the officers arrived at the house. Mr. Carlos Ingram-Lopez ran from them into a dark enclosed garage where the officers ordered him to the floor, handcuffed him behind his back and placed him in a prone position, which means they placed him face-down,” the chief said.
Magnus also told reporters that Ingram-Lopez “had committed domestic violence against a significant other and disorderly conduct involving his family two days prior to his grandmother calling police.”
The video released by police Wednesday shows Ingram-Lopez frantically running around a dark garage before officers handcuff him. The video quality is low because of poor lighting, but Ingram-Lopez can be heard thrashing, asking for water numerous times and whimpering as he lay face-down on the ground.
An internal investigation report from the department recommended that the three men who responded, lead officer Jonathan Jackson, officer Samuel Routledge, and officer Ryan Starbuck, be terminated. The officers resigned before the internal investigation concluded.
Officers' state certification decisions are made by the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training board.
Routledge declined to comment to NBC News before speaking with his attorney. Starbuck did not immediately a phone call requesting comment from NBC News.
Jackson's attorney, Jeffrey Jacobson, told NBC News Thursday night that the former officer is exploring his legal options.
"Because there is an ongoing criminal investigation, Mr. Jackson declines to comment on the substantive details of the investigation at this time," Jacobson said.
The criminal investigation into Ingram-Lopez's death was sent to the county attorney's office, which has yet to determine whether it will file charges against the officers. The FBI will also review evidence surrounding Ingram-Lopez's death to determine what federal response is warranted, a bureau spokeswoman said in a statement to NBC News.
The internal report said that the three officers struggled to handcuff Ingram-Lopez and “efficiently detain” him because of limited space in the garage. Jackson used his knees and hands to hold down Ingram-Lopez, while Routledge used his bodyweight to help detain him, according to the report.
Mr. Ingram-Lopez repeatedly asked for water, and at one point advised, "I can’t breathe,” the investigation report said.
Starbuck attempted to gain more space by opening the garage door, and Ingram-Lopez appeared startled and began yelling about a snake. None of the officers saw a snake, and it appeared Ingram-Lopez had hallucinated, the report said.
Officers requested emergency blankets to cover Ingram-Lopez and placed a “spit sock” next to his head as the man began to make noises that indicated he might be clearing his throat, according to the report.
About 13 minutes into the incident, additional officers arrived and observed Ingram-Lopez on the ground with Jackson’s knee on his back and Routledge holding down the man’s legs, the document states. Ingram-Lopez was not moving or making noise, the report said.
“Mr. Ingram-Lopez had been in a prone position, handcuffed behind the back with officers intermittently applying pressure to his torso and legs for approximately twelve minutes,” the report said. “Approximately 1:57 seconds passed from Mr. Ingram-Lopez’s last audible sound to the time personnel began the process to place him in the trained recovery position.”
Officers administered chest compressions before emergency medical personnel declared him dead.
Ingram-Lopez had been restrained in handcuffs, according to a police statement. "No blows, strikes, chokeholds, knee to the neck, chemical or electronic weapons were used. No shots were fired," the statement said.
The internal investigation report found allegations against the three officers regarding use of force, actions on duty and failure to take appropriate action were sustained.
“The investigation revealed a series of actions by each of the three focus officers that showed complete disregard for the training provided to each, disregard for established policy, but most importantly an apparent indifference or inability to recognize an individual in medical distress and take the appropriate action to mitigate the distress,” the report said.
The officers cooperated with the investigation by providing initial interviews, but Jackson resigned before a follow-up interview could be conducted and that he invoked his right to not provide a statement, according to the report and a statement from Magnus.
An analysis included in the report stated that Jackson “failed at every level” by not providing a valid reason to keep Ingram-Lopez face-down and by focusing on the arrest over de-escalating the situation.
“LPO Jackson’s failure to take incident command and be a leader created a chaotic situation in which he and other officers failed to complete their duties in manner they have been trained,” the report analysis stated.
Magnus' statement said the officers involved in the incident were both Black and white. Neither Jackson nor Routledge had a history of complaints, while Starbuck had one complaint from 2019 involving improper search of a suspect in which he missed a handgun, the chief's statement said.
Magnus added that the department’s highest value is “the sanctity of life.”
“The involved officers in this case did not live up to our department’s highest standards and we extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Ingram-Lopez’s family," Magnus said.
The medical examiner’s office didn’t determine a manner of death but said Ingram-Lopez had died of sudden cardiac arrest while intoxicated by cocaine and physically restrained.
An autopsy report said that Ingram-Lopez was restrained "following erratic behavior, including shouting, at the residence of a relative."
"He was reportedly restrained in a prone position with a spit hood and became unresponsive. He died despite resuscitative efforts by emergency medical services providers," the report said.
The Tucson Police Officers Association said in a statement that the video "shows absolutely no police use of force or any violence at all, but rather the tragic death of a man due to cardiac arrest, caused by an extremely high level of cocaine in the individual's system."
Magnus said Wednesday, “I can’t say enough, this is a terrible tragedy and I had a chance to meet with the family earlier today to express my condolences and to let them know how much I sympathize with the loss of Carlos.”
He said that although he was briefed the day after Ingram-Lopez's death, nobody in his administration viewed the video then. He called the failure to make the death public a misstep, but said it was not done with malicious intent.
Magnus was appointed chief in 2016. The city council and city manager have to approve his resignation.
Romero, a Democrat, said she was disturbed by the video showing Ingram-Lopez's death and that police must be held accountable.
“Events like this remind us that even some of the most progressive police departments with some of the most forward-thinking policies and rigorous training are not immune to failure,” the mayor said.
Police officers should not be first responders to calls involving behavioral health and drug use, the Drug Policy Alliance said in a statement on the deaths of Ingram-Lopez, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.
"It is time to re-evaluate what has fallen under the incredibly bloated scope of the police and begin redirecting resources toward appropriate community resources better suited for these kinds of situations," Kassandra Frederique, managing director of policy, advocacy and campaigns, said Thursday.
Ingram-Lopez, a Latino man who went by the name Adrian, was the father of a toddler, according to Eduardo Coronado, a family friend and attorney who has been representing them since April.
Adrian was the type of person who would light up a room when he came in. He was very polite, very expressive about his emotions, always expressing his love to his family, Coronado told NBC News. "And his pride and joy was his little girl. He loved her. And he loved his grandmother, revered his grandmother, loved his mom. He was a very kindhearted young man."
City Council member Lane Santa Cruz said in a statement after watching the video, "I cannot unwatch and unknow that officers used their bodies, denial of water, denial of air and plastic blankets as a weapon against an unarmed, vulnerable young father in distress."
She has been calling for answers since learning of his death and said in her statement that the actions of the police officers should not be minimized. "Shootings and chokeholds are not the only forms of violence," she said.
"Adrian was a young Latino father who, in his final moments, pleaded for water, and cried out for his nana," Santa Cruz said.
Coronado said he requested information and police body-camera video back in April, but didn't receive a police report until June and didn't see video until Wednesday. "I didn’t even get a 'you know what, we’re working on this.' Even that answer would have been more helpful than what I was getting," he said.
As a result, he said, he and the family are still digesting the videos and 25-page internal investigation report. He said the family wants "justice," and some family members want charges brought against the three officers.
He said he can't condemn the department for sitting on the information for so long because "I don’t know what the motivation is on that," but "I can tell you it was very frustrating for me because the family wanted answers and they weren't getting them."
The chief's resignation offer "shocked" Ingram-Lopez's family, Coronado said, and they asked him to call the mayor's office to express that they didn't want him to resign.
"The family, mom specifically, said, 'He wasn't there; he didn’t do that to my son, I’m not holding him responsible for that,'" Coronado said.