Death of man at Texas jail ruled homicide

© The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas County Medical Examiner ruled that the death of a man who was pinned down by three deputies in a Texas jail lobby was a homicide. Other contributing factors to his death were drugs, heart problems and stress to the body.

The cause and manner of death of Joseph Hutcheson, 48, was homicide with “combined effects of cocaine and methamphetamine, compounded by hypertensive cardiovascular disease and physiologic stress associated with struggle and restraint,” according to the medical examiner’s office.

A full autopsy report is pending but it will include toxicology results.

Scott Palmer, an attorney for Hutcheson’s family, said the medical examiner’s findings corroborate what the video shows: that deputies were responsible on some level for the man’s death.

It is apparent from the ruling that Mr. Hutcheson died at the hands of another,” Palmer said in a statement, according to The Dallas Morning News. “We believe without the assault by the Sheriff’s deputies, Mr. Hutcheson would still be alive today.”

Palmer told the paper that the family hired a private pathologist to conduct a second autopsy. The doctor couldn’t determine what had killed Hutcheson, but told the family that the organs in his throat were missing.

Hutcheson died on August 1 after a struggle with three deputies on the lobby floor. Authorities said the man walked into the building that morning, yelled for help, was placed in handcuffs, lost consciousness and died.

In an excerpt from a 4.37-minute surveillance video released Friday, viewers see Hutcheson first enter the lobby. While there is no sound, it appears he is yelling or coughing. People sitting in the lobby scatter as he paces up and down before a deputy approaches to talk to him. Another deputy joins them as Hutcheson sits down, before they move to the back of the lobby.

Hutcheson then peels off and is seen pacing erratically in the lobby, though he does not leave. He is seen either coughing or yelling as an officer tackles him to the ground. Two others join, and it seems they are trying to arrest him by putting him in handcuffs. A struggle ensues and Hutcheson’s legs can be seen flailing.

In the middle of the struggle, at the 2:30 mark, a deputy appears to put a knee on Hutcheson’s neck or throat, and he keeps it there for a least a minute. The knee is released then re-applied, and Hutcheson is finally handcuffed. The video ends as other deputies arrive.

Dallas police said there is an ongoing investigation and the deputies involved in the incident were reassigned to other duties several weeks ago.

Police said that Hutcheson went into the building yelling for help, behaving erratically, and claimed his wife was trying to kill him.

In a related story involving police restraint, a homicide was also confirmed by the medical examiner in the death of 43-year old Eric Garner in New York on July 17, 2014, when he was placed in a chokehold by police. In Garner’s case, contributing factors were asthma and heart disease, and the examiner said he died due to “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”

READ MORE: NYC settles Eric Garner chokehold case for $5.9 million

A special grand jury called to investigate the case declined to indict the police officer involved, Daniel Pantaleo.

A year later, New York City settled with the family, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit, for $5.9 million.