PHOENIX — Authorities have concluded that Tucson police officers used an appropriate amount of force in a violent struggle three months ago with a man who died while resisting arrest and told officers several times that he couldn’t breathe.
The Tucson Police Department on Wednesday revealed for the first time that 29-year-old Damien Alvarado died on March 22 as officers were trying to arrest him for fleeing from the scene of a hit-and-run crash on foot.
The agency said it previously wasn’t in the practice of doing news releases on such deaths, but in the future will publicly disclose them and release videos of those incidents within 72 hours. It also released videos of other in-custody deaths Wednesday.
Alvarado struck two vehicles in an intersection before exiting his car and running to a church parking lot, where two men tried to prevent him from fleeing until police arrived, according to police reports.
The videos show Alvarado struggle with the men and officers, trying to scale a cinder block wall, being forced to the ground and ignoring officer’s commands to calm down. An officer shot Alvarado with a stun gun, but he kept moving.
Medical examiners determined Alvarado’s cause of death was cardiac arrest while intoxicated on methamphetamine and being physically restrained.
Efforts to reach the Alvarado family by phone for comment on the police department’s conclusions were unsuccessful.
During the struggle, police say, Alvarado grabbed a pistol magazine from an officer’s belt, and an officer punched Alvarado three times with no apparent effect.
Alvarado yelled at officers during the incident, told them not to touch him and can be heard moaning as paramedics tended to him. At one point, an officer can be seen pressing a knee on either Alvarado’s neck or upper back as officers tried to control him.
“I can’t breathe,” Alvarado later told officers.
“If you can complain, you can breathe,” an officer responded.
Some officers used profane language in asking Alvarado to cooperate and one of them used an expletive to refer to Alvarado.
Paramedics initially cleared Alvarado to be brought back to jail but had to be called back to the scene after his breathing became shallow and he became unresponsive. Officers and paramedics performed CPR on Alvarado, who was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine whether criminal charges should be brought. The police department said the comments that the officers made during the arrest attempt violated the agency’s policies and that they could face discipline.
Two weeks ago, the Tucson Police Department acknowledged that it had failed to disclose another in-custody death.
Carlos Ingram-Lopez, 27, died on April 21 while handcuffed, placed face-down and covered with a thin blanket after police responded to a call from his grandmother, who said he had been acting erratically at her home.
The medical examiner’s office didn’t determine a manner of death but said Ingram-Lopez died of sudden cardiac arrest while intoxicated by cocaine and physically restrained.
The death of Ingram-Lopez led three officers who violated departmental policy to resign.
Kevin Hall, an assistant police chief in Tucson, said the move to release videos on a timely basis was part of the changes at police agencies across the country since George Floyd died on May 25 in Minneapolis.
“Message received loud and clear, and we have changed our procedures moving forward,” Hall said.