Man Died of Asthma as LAPD Ignored His Pleas: Report

Jorge Azucena died in police custody in 2013 after repeatedly pleading with officers that he could not breathe, new reports show. Robert Gauthier/Reuters

Police failed to heed the pleas of a man dying of an asthma attack, two police reports obtained by Los Angeles Times showed. Written by the LAPD Chief of Police and the Inspector General of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC), the reports vindicated an investigation last year by Los Angeles Times reporter Joel Rubin into the death of Jorge Azucena. The details of Azucena's death outlined in the reports bear a similarity to those of Eric Garner's death, who also died from an asthma attack after being choked by police on Staten Island, New York. These new details also follow quick on the heels of police incidences of police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, and St. Louis, Missouri.

“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. I have asthma, I have asthma,” Azucena pleaded as he slumped in the back of an LAPD cruiser, the reports showed.

And later, as he lay in the back of the cruiser, “I can’t breathe, help me, help me, I can’t breathe.”

And later still, “I can’t breathe, I’m messed up.”

And when they brought him into the police station, he could not walk or stand, so they placed him face-down on the floor and left him there, and eventually he stopped breathing.

Azucena ran a red light and led police on a chase when they attempted to pull him over, committing “numerous traffic violations” along the way, wrote Alexander Bustamante, the Inspector General of the BOPC. Eventually, Azucena left his vehicle and fled on foot through two separate apartment complexes. He eventually surrendered when officers pointed their pistols at him and ordered him to get down, according to Bustamante.

A year after Jorge Azucena’s Sept. 6, 2013 death, LAPD investigators have not determined whether any of the officers who ignored Azucena’s pleas—nor even officers who lied to investigators about it—will face discipline, Los Angeles Times reported.

“[S]everal allegations of misconduct have been framed in connection with this case,” wrote Bustamante “These include a failure to provide supervisory oversight during [Azucena]’s detention, a failure to request a Rescue Ambulance (RA) in a timely manner, potentially false and/or misleading statements, and a failure to accurately complete the adult detention sign-in log.” Because “ there was no reportable use of force involved in [Azucena]'s detention and or arrest,” the BOPC will hand the investigation off to the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Group, Bustamante wrote.

One officer said he noticed Azucena seemed “fatigued,” and was “walking wobbly,” but attributed Azucena’s condition to his flight from police. When Azucena told officers he could not breathe, another officer, a sergeant, believing Azucena was attempting to incite a crowd that gathered to watch the arrest, ordered Azucena placed in the back of a patrol car.

“You can talk, so you can breathe,” another sergeant said.

When Azucena arrived at the police station, two officers dragged him out of the back of the patrol car and got him to his feet. Azucena then said, “I can’t breathe,” and repeated it twice more, to which one officer responded that Azucena needed to “act like a man and walk,” the report stated.

Three more officers and a sergeant observed Azucena inside the police station, the report said. The sergeant described Azucena as “very animated.” None of the officers described Azucena as having trouble breathing, until one officer—Officer X, the report said—told another officer—Officer N—that Azucena was “not looking good.” The sergeant called a rescue ambulance. Azucena was dead before it arrived.

The LAPD’s Internal Affairs Group, which will now handle the investigation, did not return a request for comment.

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