Man's death in custody of APD ruled a homicide - Albuquerque Journal

Man’s death in custody of APD ruled a homicide

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The death of a 43-year-old man who died while Albuquerque police officers were taking him into custody earlier this year has been ruled a homicide.

The Office of the Medical Investigator released an autopsy report on Wednesday stating that Danny White died from sudden cardiac arrest while being restrained in a prone position. Huntington’s disease, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease are listed as “significant, contributing conditions.”

“He was placed on the floor on his stomach, a position which can compromise breathing, particularly in the presence of obesity with increased abdominal fat,” the report states. “He was held down, which can restrict the ability of the chest to expand during breathing. This combination of conditions reduced Mr. White’s ability to breathe, reduced the supply of oxygen to the heart and led to his death.”

“The manner of death is homicide,” the report adds.

University of New Mexico Health Sciences does not comment about the results of autopsies, a spokesman said.

A handbook from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the National Association of Medical Examiners defines homicide as when a death results from ”… a volitional act committed by another person to cause fear, harm or death. Intent to cause death is a common element but is not required for classification as homicide.”

Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, said officers Michael Harrison and Josh Johnson were found to have violated policy in the use-of- force procedures.

“They were given nondisciplinary corrective action,” Gallegos said.

The policy in question states: “In situations when the individual is forced into a face down position, officers shall release pressure/weight from the individual and position the individual on their side or sit them up as soon as they are restrained and it is safe to do so. Officers shall monitor the individual for any breathing problems or any other signs of distress.”

Harrison has been with APD since 2007 and Johnson has been with APD since 2017.

When reached by the Journal on Wednesday White’s family declined to comment.

Danny White

Officers were called to the White family home in Northwest Albuquerque on April 4 – Easter – because he reportedly had punched his stepfather in the forehead.

Lapel camera video from the call shows officers Harrison and Johnson arrive at the home in the 3100 block of Ronda De Lechusas NW, near Unser and Bob McCannon.

Relatives immediately let them know that White had Huntington’s disease – a rare, inherited illness that causes movement, cognitive and psychiatric problems – that made him act aggressively. They asked the officers to take him to the hospital so doctors could adjust his medication or treat him.

The officers entered the home and found White in a back room, sitting in a recliner and watching TV. He cursed at them and refused to go with them.

After some time, he got up and started moving toward the officers, telling them over and over to shoot him and cursing at them.

“Danny, we don’t want to do that,” one of the officers responded.

Then Johnson tackled White, bringing him to the ground in the hallway near the kitchen.

The footage is chaotic since it’s shot at very close range but the officers appear to be working together to turn White onto his stomach so they can handcuff him behind his back. Johnson appeared to be holding down his back while Harrison holds his legs.

Then White stopped moving. When the officers turned him over, he appeared to be unconscious.

“Is he OK?” one family member yelled.

“Please tell me he’s OK,” White’s mother cried, trying to approach as one of the officers performs CPR. She and the rest of the family are told to wait outside.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue and paramedics arrived, but White died at the scene.

White’s death was the first of two in police custody in April.

Eleven days later, on April 15, police were called because Christopher Mora, 47, had hurt himself in his brother’s apartment off Chelwood Park NE. When officers arrived Mora and his brother came out and Mora, bleeding heavily, was clutching a knife.

He skirted around the apartment’s complex until an officer doing on-the-job training, Arianne Morrow, fired her Taser at him and he collapsed to the ground.

An autopsy found that Mora’s death was a suicide from more than 75 sharp force injuries to his chest, neck and extremities.

“While the majority of these were minor and very superficial in nature, there were multiple injuries that were more significant,” the report states. “The most severe of these were to the neck and with complete sectioning of the windpipe (larynx). There were no injuries to the major vessels of the neck, although injury to smaller vessels within the neck could lead to significant bleeding.”

The autopsy states that “between the bleeding from the extremity wounds, the chest wounds, the large neck wounds, and the damage done to Mr. Mora’s airway, he eventually lost a great deal of blood, ultimately leading to death.”

Gallegos, the APD spokesman, said he had not heard back by deadline about whether anyone was disciplined in the case.


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