DALLAS (AP) — The death of a 48-year-old man in a Dallas County jail lobby after being handcuffed was ruled a homicide Monday, with the cause attributed to factors including drug use, heart problems and the stress from a struggle with sheriff’s deputies and being restrained.
Joseph Hutcheson of Arlington died Aug. 1 because of the combined toxic effects of cocaine and methamphetamine, compounded by heart problems due to high blood pressure and the stress to his body associated with struggle and restraint, the Dallas County medical examiner’s office said. A full autopsy report is pending.
Authorities have said that Hutcheson entered the building shouting that his wife was chasing him and going to kill him, and called for a supervisor. Authorities have said he was handcuffed to prevent him from hurting himself or others.
Surveillance video from the lobby released Friday shows Hutcheson acting erratically before being subdued by deputies and losing consciousness. The 40-minute silent video shows Hutcheson approach people who were sitting on a bench and then later sat on the bench. He then gets up and moves around the lobby as deputies follow. A struggle eventually ensues, Hutcheson is handcuffed, flails his legs and then stops moving. The deputies remove the handcuffs and start efforts to revive him.
The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department will not comment on either the medical examiner’s findings or whether it’ll be referred to a grand jury until the investigation is complete, spokesman Raul Reyna said. He said the six deputies who were involved were reassigned several weeks ago.
“It is apparent from the ruling that Mr. Hutcheson died at the hands of another,” said Scott Palmer, an attorney hired by Hutcheson’s family. Palmer said they’ve ordered a private autopsy, which isn’t complete yet.
The Rev. Jeff Hood, who has worked with some of the family, said the incident shouldn’t have resulted in Hutcheson’s death.
“We think this is a clear case of police brutality,” said the executive director of a nonprofit called Hope for Peace and Justice. Hood also said that from watching the video and reading witness accounts in the media, he believes that one of the deputies placed his knee on Hutcheson’s neck.
April Berryhill told WFAA and The Dallas Morning News that she saw a deputy with his knee on Hutcheson’s throat and heard him say he couldn’t breathe.
Hutcheson’s brother, James Hutcheson, said at a news conference Monday that his brother was “a good guy” and “would have never hurt anybody.”
Vernon Herron, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Health and Homeland Security at The University of Maryland, said it’s unclear from the video exactly where the deputy’s knee is placed. Herron also said they couldn’t have allowed him to walk back into the street in the state he was in and it appears that they are trying to communicate with him before handcuffing him.
“I don’t see anything in the video that would appear to be excessive,” Herron said, adding, “It looks like they were trying to restrain them as best they could.”