When Scott said he could not breathe, the response came from officer Jarred Tipton: “I don’t care.”
“Stop resisting,” Tipton’s partner yelled.
Scott, who was found to be armed with a handgun, eventually became unresponsive; paramedics rendered aid on the scene. He died in the hospital about an hour later due to a collapsed right lung, an autopsy found, with physical restraint, recent methamphetamine use, asthma, bullous emphysema and atherosclerotic heart disease listed as contributing factors, the Oklahoman reported.
The new video footage of Scott’s arrest was released Monday night by the Oklahoma City Police Department after pressure from Black Lives Matter organizers, revitalizing demands for justice for Scott after prosecutors declined last year to pursue criminal charges against the officers who restrained him.
It’s one of several cases of in-custody deaths or beatings by police that have been revisited amid nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. Demonstrators have demanded better police transparency and accountability in cases of wrongdoing.
But this week, authorities in Oklahoma City continued to defend the actions of the officers, standing by their findings last year that the officers did nothing wrong in Scott’s death.
“This guy runs from the police. He’s got a 90 percent occluded major artery in his heart,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater told the Associated Press this week. “I mean, he’s just a perfect candidate to die when you’ve got meth in your system and those kinds of physical ailments and then you fight with police. [The officers] didn’t do anything wrong at all.”
The words “I can’t breathe” have become one of the loudest rallying cries at protests across the country, echoing Floyd in Minneapolis in May, Manuel Ellis in Tacoma, Wash., in March, Byron Williams in Las Vegas in September, Javier Ambler in Austin in 2019, Christopher Lowe in Fort Worth in 2018 — in which an officer responded, “Don’t pull that s---” — and Eric Garner in New York in 2014. All of them died in police custody.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Oklahoma City Police Capt. Larry Withrow acknowledged police “frequently” hear suspects crying, “I can’t breathe,” but brushed aside suggestions it was improper of Tipton to say, “I don’t care.” Officers also suggested aloud on multiple occasions that Scott was only pretending to be unconscious, only “acting” like he was.
Withrow said the officers made these comments “in the heat of a conflict,” and it’s important to “understand the officers are fighting with someone.”
“It’s not uncommon for people, when you’re struggling with them, when you’re trying to get him under control, to say, ‘I can’t breathe.’ You hear that frequently,” Withrow said. “If they’re still struggling and they’re still fighting with you and they’re talking with you, it makes you wonder, are they really having difficulty breathing? Or are they just trying to get away?”
In this case, Withrow said, officers radioed for medical assistance after Scott said he was having trouble breathing. They then rolled him over into a “recovery position,” getting off his back, to “allow for a better opportunity to breathe and relax while they maintained control of the suspect."
“In reviewing the video myself, I see that the officers are using the academy taught techniques, the control and defensive tactics techniques that are taught in order to offer them a reasonable amount of control and the least likelihood of injuring a suspect,” Withrow said. “I don’t know that there’s any more they could have done to monitor the suspect or ensure his health.”
Scott’s mother, Vickey Scott, disagrees. On Wednesday, she told the Oklahoman the video of her son’s arrest was “one of the most inhumane things I ever saw,” ignoring her son as he was gasping for air “like he was nothing.”
“I want every mother to watch that,” she said, “and imagine that’s your son’s last so many minutes of life and he’s dying, and they’re saying that he’s faking.”
Video footage has played an integral role in exposing police abuses, whether captured by bystanders or on body or dashboard cameras and released to the public.
Like in Scott’s case, the newly released body-cam footage in Ambler’s in-custody death in Austin has caused a fury, as the footage, obtained by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE, shows Ambler telling officers he has congestive heart failure and can’t breathe as they continue Tasing him on the pavement. He was pursued by police for failing to dim his headlights, which turned into a 22-minute chase filmed by the now-canceled A&E reality show “Live PD.” The footage was deleted.
“Save me!” Ambler cried just before being Tasered again.
“Do what we’re asking you to do!” a deputy shouted.
“I can’t,” Ambler said, before becoming unresponsive.
His death was ruled a homicide caused by congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease, “in combination with forcible restraint,” according to an in-custody death report obtained by KVUE.
In Tacoma, Wash., a driver and a homeowner’s Ring camera captured police beating and restraining Ellis, a 33-year-old unarmed black man, on the side of the road before he fell unconscious and died at the scene. After the videos emerged earlier this month, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards (D) demanded all four officers involved be fired. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Wednesday pledged that a new agency would investigate Ellis’s death after discovering the investigating agency, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, had deputies on scene.
Earlier this week in Shreveport, La., station KTLA published cellphone footage showing police beating Tommie McGlothen Jr. with batons and fists and also using a Taser on him in the street; he died in a hospital hours later. The coroner, Todd Thoma, found that the blunt force trauma was not life-threatening and that McGlothen, 44, died of natural causes. He said McGlothen was in a state of “excited delirium” — a condition often cited by police in in-custody deaths that has been questioned by medical experts — and that he also suffered from underlying heart disease, the Shreveport Times reported.
But Thoma also said McGlothen’s death was preventable, questioning why, rather than taking him to a hospital, officers left the man unsupervised in the back of a patrol car for 48 minutes as his condition deteriorated and he fell unresponsive.
After the release of the video, an attorney for McGlothen’s family, James Carter, demanded the officers involved be fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, the Times reported Wednesday.
“It’s sad that in this country by those who are here to protect us, that we need a video camera to make justice go forward,” Carter said on Wednesday.