September 22, 2023

Family furious after coroner says death of Tasered man ‘inexplicable’

The Los Angeles coroner on Friday released the official autopsy of a man who died after being repeatedly groped and restrained by Los Angeles police officers, stating that the manner of death was “undetermined,” a conclusion that has sparked outrage among lawyers and his family.

Keenan Anderson died on January 3 after LAPD officers detained him while responding to a traffic accident. Anderson was repeatedly tased and he yelled “they’re trying to kill me” before knocking himself unconscious. He suffered a fatal heart attack in a hospital four hours later.

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The coroner’s report, which suggests officers’ actions were not the primary cause of death, and the agency’s decision not to classify the case as homicide, has been harshly criticized by Anderson’s family.

“I am deeply disappointed in the LA County coroner’s continued scientific gaslighting,” Patrisse Cullors, Anderson’s cousin and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, said Monday. “The whole world witnessed Keenan being electrocuted multiple times by a Taser. No one can say Keenan would have died that day had he not been tasered. It’s just illogical. The Tasering killed him.

The decision also comes amid growing awareness of how government autopsies and coroner’s reports have in some cases been used to minimize or blot out police action in deadly encounters with civilians.

The autopsy, made public late Friday, said Anderson’s death was due to heart disease and cocaine use, but also vaguely acknowledged the significant use of force and tasing by police, saying he died from the “effects of cardiomyopathy and cocaine use (death determined hours after restraint and use of conducted energy devices).” Under “how injury occurred,” the report stated: “undetermined contribution of law enforcement restrictions and [Taser] usage”.

The autopsy, conducted by the LA County Medical Examiner and Coroner’s Department, indicates wounds from the Tasing, including 14 abrasions on Anderson’s back, as well as blunt traumatic injuries to his head, chest, arms and legs. After being assessed by paramedics on the scene, he was in “moderate pain” with a rapid heartbeat and “became unconscious with labored breathing,” the report said. At the hospital, he appeared disoriented and in “acute distress” before his death.

The report says the cause of his “medical decline” was “probably multifactorial” and that because he lost consciousness minutes after being restrained and tased, “the physiological effects and extent of the contribution of law enforcement interaction are uncertain.”

Body camera footage from the encounter showed that the 31-year-old high school teacher and father, who had suffered a hit-and-run, was first spotted by police in the middle of the road and said, “Please help me.” Officers shouted orders at Anderson and made him sit on the sidewalk, the video shows, after which he appeared frightened by the officers’ behavior, saying, “I want people to see me.” Anderson began to flee on foot, while an officer pursued him and forced him to the ground; several officers then arrived and detained him, including one who placed his elbow and body weight on his neck.

Video captured Anderson repeatedly begged for help, at one point saying, “They’re trying to give me George Floyd.” An officer appeared to tase him for about 30 seconds at a time before pausing and tasing him for another five seconds. He was eventually wheeled away in a chair, placed in an ambulance and taken to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

The LAPD said at the time that officers used physical force and groped him to “overcome his defiance.”

“My family and I are certain that Keenan died because he had stopped the police on that day and the police chose to tase him rather than tend to him,” Cullors said. “Part of what’s painful is that the coroner, the coroner — these are institutions that we’re supposed to trust, but we know there’s a long history of black body medical neglect and abuse, both in our lives as we to live. , but also in our death.

“If drugs are found in someone’s system, it is used as an anchor to discredit the person killed by the police and cast doubt in the public as to whether this person deserved their humanity, whether they deserved it to live, and that’s obviously what’s happening with my cousin,” Cullors added.

George Floyd’s autopsy, who was pinned to the ground for nine minutes, cited fentanyl use and heart disease as the causes, but his death was eventually ruled a homicide. Authorities at a California prison claimed a 23-year-old inmate man died of an overdose in 2018, until videos later revealed he was stuffed into a full-body safety vest and died of suffocation.

Last year, investigators reported that the LA county coroner had regularly ruled prison deaths as “natural” in cases involving bodily harm. The coroner’s office disputed the methodologies, noting that deaths were considered “indeterminate” when “the information pointing to one mode of death is no more convincing than one or more other competing modes of death”.

A coroner’s spokesperson said in an email that “undetermined” was the “final decision” and declined to comment further.

Anderson was one of three killed at the hands of the LAPD in the first week of the year, sparking national outrage as protests erupted across the country in response to the fatal beating of Tire Nichols by the Memphis Police Department.

The release of the autopsy was painful for the family, who gathered over the weekend to process the news, Cullors said. “The system to hold law enforcement officers accountable and get justice does not exist. So we have to take care of each other,” she said.

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