A man died in November after an interaction with police in North Seattle. The Seattle Police Department has released body cam video of the incident that is now under investigation.
The 53-year-old man on the video, taken on Nov. 18, argues and struggles with police before an ambulance arrives. He was found to be in medical distress inside the ambulance. CPR was administered, but he was declared dead at the scene. A medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
The incident is the second time Seattle police have released body cam video — unlike usual dash cam footage — outside of a pilot program for the new technology. The first time was for an officer-involved shooting in Eastlake.
The videos provide insight into how the Seattle Police Department is handling its new body cam program after years of debate and negotiation. Some portions of video are blacked out or blurred. Audio is removed at other times. The camera’s view is also often blocked as the officer’s arms move around.
Getting Seattle police to use body cams has been a long process with years of delays over privacy concerns. After experimenting with the cameras in 2015, police began a pilot body cam program in June 2016 with five officers. After a second pilot, police and city officials continued to disagree over video procedures, further halting their implementation.
Following the fatal officer-involved shooting of Charleena Lyles, former Mayor Ed Murray ordered all Seattle police to wear body cams. Many argued that more would be known about the controversial shooting if the cops were wearing body cameras. The police union opposed Murray’s order, saying it violated collective bargaining rights as the two parties were negotiating a contract. The State of Washington Public Employment Relations Commission ruled that the mayor’s order violated bargaining laws.
Since then, body cameras have been used by some officers. The department began using the footage for public transparency around such shootings and deaths.
The body cam video
The 27-minute long body cam footage from Nov. 18 shows a couple officers engaging the man on the side of the road at North 105th Street and Aurora Avenue North. The man was reportedly in the middle of the street. He appeared paranoid, telling officers that he was being chased, but refused to say by whom. He said he didn’t believe the officers were real cops.
Officers tried to give him a ride home. The man refused and the police left in their patrol car, watching the man as they slowly drove away.
“Man, I do not want to use force on this guy in the middle of this intersection,” an officer said on the video.
But the man did return to the middle of the intersection as drivers honked at him. The police returned to get him out of the street and wrestle him to the ground.
“Please, I need help!” the man screamed. “Call an ambulance. I have a right to an ambulance!”
At least five officers struggled with the man as he was held to the ground. The man yelled that “he’s going to poke me.” Officers instructed the man to relax and to stop kicking. At one point during the struggle on the ground, the man stopped yelling. Officers noticed the change and made sure he was still breathing. They asked him questions, but the man was unresponsive.
“He decides to take a nap now …” one officer said on the video.
None of the officers seemed concerned about the state of the man at this point. They loaded him onto a gurney and into an ambulance. At the end of the video, as the man was inside the ambulance and someone said he was not breathing. An officer can be heard calling for medics from the fire department, giving details about a 45-year-old man with low breathing.