A grand jury in Scott, Louisiana, has refused to indict police officers involved in the takedown arrest and asphyxiation death of a man outside a Scott gas station in March 2014. This despite video footage of officers sitting atop his upper torso and audio of the man’s weakening voice telling those arresting him that he could not breathe.
The Associated Press reported May 31 that a grand jury did not indict any of the officers from Scott and Carenco, nor did the indict any of the sheriff’s deputies from the Lafayette Parrish Sheriff’s Office, several of whom were involved in the arrest of 30-year-old Robert Minjarez Jr. Besides audio and video of the arrest, the grand jury also had the autopsy report from the Lafayette Parrish coroner, which stated that the primary cause of death was due to “compressional asphyxia due to face-down physical restraint by law enforcement officers.”
The report also said that cocaine toxicity and rhabdomyolysis — muscle breakdown, which can have a number of causes, including cocaine and other drugs — were contributing causes. The report noted that surveillance video from the store and from police car dash cams provided images showing that at least three or four officers were either wholly or partly atop Minjarez after his hands and legs were cuffed. The man’s torso was on the street, his hips and legs slightly above his upper body and on the sidewalk, according to the report.
The position, the coroner noted (per the Lafayette Advertiser), made it difficult for the man to breathe. The weight of the restraining officers on his back added to the effect.
The report continued: Minjarez could be heard yelling, “I can’t breathe!” and that he was suffocating three times. He screams and cries out for help several times as well, telling the officers, “You’re going to kill me!” As his voice weakens, the report says that Minjarez can be heard saying he could not breathe once more.
The coroner also pointed out that Robert Minjarez Jr. had been found by police “reportedly agitated, naked and had destroyed a residence” the day before. He had been treated at a hospital, tested positive for cocaine and benzodiazepine and had symptoms consistent with rhabdomyolysis. Before a doctor could see him, he left the hospital — against medical advice.
Police ran in to Minjarez again the next day. Dashcam and store surveillance video indicated that he was “mentally agitated” and hallucinating. After two officers attempted to restrain him, others were called in to assist. He was then taken down by the pair of new arrivals and handcuffed.
Officers involved in the arrest were not identified. The grand jury rendered its decision Wednesday, May 27.
Robert Minjarez Jr.’s story is not the first “I can’t breathe!” story that seems to indicate that law enforcement around the nation are not showing proper caution with regard to the health of suspects in their custody. The story of Eric Garner made national headlines, as did the non-indictment of the New York policeman that used a banned and illegal chokehold to help subdue Garner. Garner told police six times that he could not breathe, his words and arrest captured on videotape, and “I can’t breathe!” became a rallying cry at protests and demonstrations across the country.
But even more recently, a video of decorated war veteran and active duty soldier Sgt. James Brown surfaced that showed him being restrained by several police officers while in custody in El Paso, Texas. The disturbing video at one point shows him surrounded by law enforcement, his face covered with a bite guard. Although he continues to tell the officers around him that he can’t breathe, they do not send for medical help until it is too late.