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LAPD officer suffers injuries in training, leading to death, family says

Houston Tipping’s spine was broken in three places, says lawyer; family removed him from life support days after incident

Los Angeles police officer Houston Tipping and his mother, Shirley Huffman. (Courtesy of Bradley Gage)
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Houston Tipping went into Los Angeles Police Department training on May 26 a healthy 32-year-old. But after his fellow officers beat him as part of an exercise designed to “simulate a mob,” he left a quadriplegic, according to a complaint Tipping’s mother has filed against the city.

Unable to breathe on his own, Tipping died three days later when his family took him off life support.

Now, his mother is preparing to sue the city of Los Angeles. On Friday, Shirley Huffman filed a notice of claim with the city, a requirement under California law before someone sues a government agency. She’s accusing the LAPD — her son’s employer of about five years — of wrongful death, assault and battery, and violating her son’s civil rights.

“He was supposed to be in training, but he was brutally injured instead,” Huffman’s lawyer, Bradley Gage, said in a news release shared with The Washington Post. “He went from being a healthy young man loving his job, protecting and serving all of us, and became a quadriplegic who could not even [breathe] on his own.”

The LAPD declined a request for comment from The Post. But in a May 31 news release, the department said that Tipping fell to the floor while “grappling” with another officer during a training scenario, which caused “a catastrophic spinal cord injury.” After the injury, officers started CPR and hailed paramedics, who took Tipping to a hospital.

Chief Michel Moore described Tipping as a “bright and uplifting young man with a full life in front of him.” Moore said the department is fully investigating what he called “the accident” to see whether top brass can make changes to training that “ensure such a tragedy is avoided in the future.”

In an interview, Gage said Tipping suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, a damaged liver and a severe head wound. His spinal cord was broken in three places, which caused permanent paralysis and led surgeons to fuse seven vertebrae together to stabilize his spine, the lawyer added.

For an officer to suffer such severe injuries during departmental training is “mind-boggling,” Gage said.

At one point in the days after the training, Tipping regained consciousness, Gage said. He learned he was permanently paralyzed and “did not want to live like that,” Gage added. “He was an active guy who all of a sudden was unable to move, and he was not going to be able to move ever again.”

Tipping told his family — by blinking — that he wanted to die rather than live as a quadriplegic. On May 29, three days after the training, he did. His funeral was last week.

His family is taking solace that Tipping, who donated his organs, lives on through the strangers he helped save. It’s something his family is “very grateful for,” Gage said, “and they want to encourage other people to be organ donors.”

But overall, the death of her only son has shocked and saddened Huffman, especially because it happened doing a job he loved, Gage said.

Having followed his dad into the business, Tipping was working construction in 2017 when he attended the graduation ceremony of a friend becoming a firefighter. He decided that he, too, wanted to serve the public. After taking stock of his own skills and desires, Tipping settled on the police department.

And it was a good fit, Gage said. Tipping, an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting, became a bicycle officer — a job that kept him active and outdoors as he helped “people with real problems.”

“It was the perfect job for him,” Gage said.

Until May 26.

Gage, who described himself and Huffman as “pro-police,” thanked the LAPD for helping with Tipping’s funeral and for its “outpouring of support.” But, he added, “troubling events” led to Tipping’s death, and his mother wants to know more about them. So far, they’ve gotten little in the way of answers from the LAPD, he said.

Gage said he’s tried to contact every officer he believes was at the May 26 training, without much luck. Some say they’ve been ordered not to talk, while others said they need to hire a lawyer first, he said.

Gage said the “brutal” injuries alone suggest serious departmental shortcomings. “The stuff that they did here seems to be so far outside of the realm of normal training that basically it’s not training,” he said.

“It’s a beating,” he added. “It’s a beating to death of a police officer.”