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New body camera video shows man telling police ‘I can’t breathe’ before he dies in 2019

In an introduction to editing video released Friday, former Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall said Joseph Perez, 41, was contacted by officers from the Fresno Police Department in May 2017 after seeing him act erratically and believing he needed help. Perez did not cooperate, prompting officers to hold him face down on the sidewalk for his own safety as they waited for paramedics to arrive, Hall said.

Paramedics eventually arrived at the scene and decided to hold Perez, lying face down, on a back panel. An officer from Fresno was asked to sit on the back panel for about a minute while paramedics attached Perez to the back panel.

Perez passed out, Hall said. Paramedics attempted to save his life in the ambulance, but was unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead in hospital.

Perez’s family has taken legal action against law enforcement officers, paramedics and others. The defendants have denied the allegations contained in court documents. The death was declared a homicide by the county coroner, a family lawyer told CNN.

The body camera images were posted to the Fresno Police Department’s YouTube channel on Friday under a federal court order. The family had previously requested her release, but was delayed after American Ambulance, a California EMS that serves Fresno County, objected. In an introduction to the video, Hall said he supported the video’s release in late July 2020 “in the spirit of transparency.”

“Despite the defendants’ efforts to keep these images confidential, truth and transparency have prevailed,” Neil Gehlawat, an attorney for Perez’s family, said in a statement. “The Perez family are deeply troubled by the circumstances which led to Joseph’s death, particularly in light of the epidemic of police violence plaguing the country.”

A spokesperson for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office and the coroner declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. American Ambulance did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. However, in a statement to CNN affiliate KFSN, the company said its mission is to “take care of people.”

“Regardless of the patient, our goal is always to provide excellent care and to treat everyone with the same level of dignity and respect,” the statement said. “Our job is just to help people and save lives. That was as true for Joseph Perez as it was for anyone else.”

‘I can not breathe’

On May 10, 2017, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call from a resident who said a man was running erratically on a busy street. In the audio of the call, included in Friday’s video, a man is heard describing Perez as “running to the side” and “just acting real, really weird”.

Three Fresno cops who were unaware of the 911 call stumbled upon Perez and pulled over, seeing that he needed help. According to Hall, the police believed the man “may have been on drugs, alcohol, or in some sort of mental distress.”

Perez had a history of contact with law enforcement, Hall said. The day before, he had been released from a hospital after a mental health assessment by other Fresno police officers, although that was not known to police at the time of the fatal incident, Hall said.

Perez became uncooperative after officers approached him and he was handcuffed for his own safety, Hall said. Deputies from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department quickly arrived and officials from both agencies requested an ambulance, according to Hall.

Sheriff’s assistants and police tried to calm Perez down, but he “continued to be uncooperative and physically combative,” Hall said. Authorities laid him face down on the sidewalk while waiting for emergency medical personnel, but Perez started “rubbing his forehead against the sidewalk,” he said.

In body camera footage released on Friday, authorities are repeatedly heard asking Perez to calm down. Perez is heard screaming and swearing.

“Please help me,” Perez said.

American Ambulance paramedics arrive at the scene and a blue plastic back panel is seen placed on Perez’s back. An officer is tasked by a paramedic to sit on it while emergency personnel finish securing him.

As the officers struggle to hold him back, Perez is heard screaming “oh my God” and “I can’t breathe”.

“Sit on this board,” a paramedic said to an officer.

According to Hall, the officer sat on the back panel on Perez’s butt for a minute and 15 seconds before the paramedic told the officer to stand up. Paramedics then took Perez into the ambulance, but he was pronounced dead at the regional community medical center.

4 agencies investigated the incident

The Fresno County Coroner’s Office said Perez’s death was homicide caused by “compression asphyxiation,” Gehlawat said. In his statement, he said that “compression asphyxiation during restraint is all too common and we hope to expose this ubiquitous tactic used by law enforcement officers across the country.”

The family is “troubled that the officers, assistants and paramedics involved are still employed by their respective agencies and have not been prosecuted,” the lawyer said.

In Friday’s video, Hall said that “Perez had a methamphetamine level in his system that was 24 times the toxic level at the time of his death,” and that this was a contributing factor.

New body camera video shows man telling police ‘I can’t breathe’ before he dies in 2019

Hall said the incident was “thoroughly investigated” by four different agencies, including the Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office. independent review of the city of Fresno.

“The four agencies concluded that the officers and deputies did not use excessive force and that their actions were in accordance with policy, and that the sheriff’s department and the police department were following the instructions of the emergency medical personnel. at the scene, ”Hall said.

“On behalf of myself and the entire Fresno Police Department, I would like to express my deepest condolences to Joseph Perez’s family for their loss,” he said.

The Perez family case is due to go to trial in May 2022.

CNN’s Chris Boyette contributed to this report.


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