FRESNO CA (KMJ) — Friday, the Fresno Police Department released body camera footage showing a man’s death in police custody.
41-year-old Joseph Perez died May 10th, 2017. His family and their attorneys say that was due to asphyxiation while being detained by Fresno Police Officers.
1-year-old Joseph Perez died May 10th, 2017. His family and their attorneys say that was due to asphyxiation while being detained by Fresno Police Officers.
Watch the news conference recorded by our news partner FOX26:
“First and foremost, I want to express on the part of the Fresno Police Department how tragic this loss of life was,” said former Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall. “Despite Mr. Perez’s personal struggles, it saddens all of us when a life is lost.”
The Perez family is suing both the Fresno Police Department and American Ambulance, calling Perez’s death a homicide.
A court order mandated the release of the body camera footage showing the incident. Then-Chief Andy Hall was in support of releasing the video when the issue was raised in late July 2020, but American Ambulance resisted.
Joseph Perez died while being detained by Fresno Police and American Ambulance in 2017. Body camera footage from that incident was just released today. Perez’s family and lawyers are suing FPD and American Ambulance, calling the incident a homicide. FPD calls it a tragic accident pic.twitter.com/4HDI3RgGzM
— Marie Edinger KMPH (@MarieEdinger) March 5, 2021
“We’re pleased that the Court agreed with our position that this footage was in the public interest and could no longer be kept confidential,” said attorney Neil Gehlawat. “The Perez family is deeply troubled by the circumstances leading to Joseph’s death, especially in light of the police violence epidemic plaguing the country. Compressive asphyxia during restraint is all too common and we want to expose this pervasive tactic used by law enforcement officers across the country.”
The Fresno Police Department says officers stopped to talk with Joseph Perez when they saw him walking in a roadway at Palm and Santa Fe, and believed he seemed to be showing signs of distress. The Department says it was receiving calls into 9-1-1 from people concerned for Mr. Perez’s wellbeing.
The Police Department says officers brought Perez to the sidewalk, but placed him in handcuffs, saying it was for his own safety because he kept trying to go back to the roadway.
“He resisted and his distress grew, despite efforts to calm him,” said Chief Hall. “Unknown to officers at the time was that Mr. Perez had a long history of contact with law enforcement.”
Chief Hall says Perez had been taken in for a mental health evaluation just the day before. He’d been discharged from the hospital shortly after.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene to assist and also determined Perez needed medical attention.
FPD says Perez continued struggling with law enforcement, becoming physically combative. Then, Chief Hall says he started trying to hurt himself, grinding his head against the sidewalk. Officers placed a towel under his head as a barrier.
Chief Hall says officers and deputies tried to de-escalate the situation.
The deputies and officers laid Perez down face-down on the sidewalk until American Ambulance arrived on scene fourteen minutes later.
American Ambulance paramedics placed a backboard on top of Mr. Perez. Chief Hall says American Ambulance personnel directed an officer to sit on top of that board so the paramedic could secure Perez to the board.
The officer stays seated on the board, near Perez’s buttox, for about 75 seconds.
The first responders then flipped Perez over and put him onto a gurney. At some point during the ordeal, he lost consciousness.
American Ambulance tried to resuscitate Perez, but was not successful.
“Tragically, Mr. Perez became unresponsive and died later at the hospital,” said Chief Hall.
The Police Department says the County Coroner determined the cause of death to be compressional asphyxia, just as the Perez family’s lawyers say. However, the Department included the note that the Coroner believes a contributing factor to his death was an intake of methamphetamine 24 times over the level that is considered toxic.
The Perez family and their attorneys held a news briefing Friday afternoon.
Below are some verbatim quotes from the conference:
“Today was the release of body cam footage from the last moments he was alive so that was taken from one of the police officers who was there at the scene: we have fought for the last year to get this footage to the public because up until this time it was been subject to a protective order.”
Perez’s lawyers say the city only released the edited footage after realizing they were going to lose in court. “You can judge the transparency by those actions.”
“There was no body camera footage of the beginning of their interactions. by the time it started Perez is already on the ground and has already been there for at least one minute. He was unarmed and not committing a crime nor was he wanted for the commission or any crime. “
“During this entire encounter that you see he is handcuffed and face down on the ground.”
Neil Gelllwat: “Let me start with something that the chief ended his video with today, which is that the coroner for the city of Fresno decided that Mr. Perez’s death was a homicide. The only other people who are responsible for killing Mr. Perez are the officers the deputies and the folks and the paramedics who were on scene… His body was placed in such a way that pressure was applied to it that it caused him to stop breathing and ultimately die.”
“Our clients wanted this case to be part of a broader conversation about police killings.”
The lawyers say it serves the community to show this video. The lawyers accuse the police department of only releasing the video so as to not look bad. “That’s the history of this video being released, not what chief hall told you all in his video segment morning”
The first thirty or so seconds does not have audio.
In the video, you can hear Joseph screaming. The officers say they’re trying to help him.
“You’re fine. just breathe. Just relax. Stop.”
Neil Gelllwat: “At the time of this incident, the Fresno sheriff’s deputies who came to the scene were not equipped with body cameras. One of the three officers who responded to the scene had a body camera. He has indicated that the power was switched off on his body cam and he only realized that later and turned it on.” Lawyers say that took at least a minute. “The important part about that is right now we are having to take their word for the fact that Peres was handcuffed and jumped up like he’s going by to go to the middle of the streets that isn’t on video.”
“The second thing I want to say is sort of stating the obvious, which is that at this time there’s seven of them and one of him. he’s handcuffed and he’s on the ground laying prone for the entirety of this video.”
“If you’re applying pressure to someone’s back and keeping them from breathing, it doesn’t help for them to say ‘just breathe everything is okay’”
“In this portion that you’ve seen so far, one of the key things is that you can hear the officers telling Joseph to relax because he’s face down and there’s weight being applied to his stomach. That doesn’t allow him to fully expand his lungs. The phenomenon is, the more he can’t breathe, the more he struggles, the harder the officers push on him.”
Lawyers say officers are not given proper tools to deal with someone who is being combative. They cuff their hands and feet, “hobbling” the person being detained. Lawyers say the officers were not trained properly.
The unedited video is 17 minutes long.
“Extremely disturbing is that they decide to put a backboard on top of Mr. Perez while he’s in a prone position and then have the officers sit on the board..you hear him initially and then you slowly stop hearing him. I would ask you all to pay attention to that and that after the officer gets up off the board, Mr. Perez’s body goes limp.”
Click to listen to the report by KMJ’s Liz Kern: