Investigations

Chilling Report Shows Asthma Sufferer Died in Custody After Cops Ignored His Pleas for Medical Attention

“You can talk, so you can breathe," LA Cops told victim, Jorge Azucena.

Jorge Azucena died in police custody
Photo Credit: DMV

LAPD officers remain under internal investigation over the death of a detained asthma sufferer after two reports made public this week showed numerous cops ignored the dying man's desperate plea that he was unable to breathe, LA Times reported.

The chilling reports disclose new details into the death of 26-year-old Jorge Azucena who died last September following his arrest stemming from a DUI car chase.  After surrendering to police, Azucena started to have an asthma attack and told the cops he was unable to breathe and needed medical attention. However, officers did not take his complaints seriously with one sergeant saying, “You can talk, so you can breathe,” according to the report.

Consequently, Azucena began yelling, “‘Help me, help me, help me. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help me, please,'” the report stated. However, officers just thought he was just trying to incite unrest from onlookers so again ignored his cries.

After he was handcuffed, Azucena again told police he was unable to breathe and suffered from asthma.  According to the inspector report, one officer said Azucena appeared to be wobbly and so cops had to physically lift him to the patrol car.

Azucena was told by another officer to “act like a man and walk,” when he was taken to the station and again recorded saying he could not breathe.

Too unwell to stand or walk, police left him lying face down in a holding cell. Soon, Azucena was unconscious and paramedics were called 40 minutes after he arrived.

However, attempts to revive him failed as his heart had already stopped. Azucena was pronounced dead a short while after arriving in hospital.

While blood tests showed that he had methamphetamine in his system, the coroner’s report found that he most likely died from an asthma attack, with the death classified as an accident.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff conceded that officers need to be better trained to respond to medical emergencies yet defended the LAPD.

“I don’t think this points to a culture of officers who don’t care about people, But it’s important that we make sure officers know they can follow their own moral compass and can feel comfortable speaking up in any situation if they have questions about what is going on,” he said.

But civilian member of the LA Police Commission, Robert Saltzman, condemned the actions of police and their inadequate response to detainee medical conditions needing immediate attention.

“There should not be any question that when somebody in custody is heard to say ‘I cannot breathe,’ the officers should promptly call for an ambulance,” Saltzman told the LA Times.

The district attorney’s office is now reviewing the matter to determine if any criminal behavioral charges can be filed against the nine officers and two sergeants who remain the subject of the ongoing investigation.

Azucena left behind a wife and a one year old son.

 

 

 

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.

 

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