The Los Angeles Police Department is under fire for its treatment of a suspect in custody after Jorge Azucena died from an asthma attack. Azucena repeatedly told the officers that “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” . . . I have asthma, I have asthma.” However, LAPD officers refused to help him with one sergeant telling him “You can breathe just fine. You can talk, so you can breathe.” He died after being left lying face down on his cell floor. Roughly a year has passed but there is no reported discipline in the case.
Azucena reportedly could not even walk by the time that he was brought to a South Los Angeles police station and was carried to his cell. The evidence in the case was derived from recordings from cameras on police cars that responded to the scene on September 6, 2013 near midnight. Azucena led police on a brief car chase after running a red light. He and two companions ditched their car and ran off into a park but Azucena was quickly found at a nearby apartment complex. When he surrendered, he is heard complaining that he could not breathe. He continues to plead that he could not breathe as he was left on the ground handcuffed. One officer noted that he was “walking wobbly” and seemed “fatigued.” Another thought he might be having a seizure. Azucena became increasing alarmed and began yelling “Help me, help me, help me. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help me, please.” A sergeant dismissed the pleas as just trying to incite the crowd. He was told “You can breathe just fine. You can talk, so you can breathe.”
He kept begging officers to help but the most that they would do is slightly lower a window in the cruiser. According to the Inspector General’s report, when he was unable to walk, an officer told him “that he needed to act like a man and walk.” Notably, following protocol, a supervisor insisted that he did ask Azucena if he was sick or injured and recorded his answer as “not responsive” on the form. That would seem a problem when someone is not responsive and unable to walk. However, Azucena was carried to a holding cell and placed face down on the concrete floor. Some 40 minutes later, paramedics arrived after officers could tell that he was not breathing. He was later declared dead.
The inspector general’s report shows a shocking lack of response by various officers. Yet, no action has been reportedly taken in the case. That lack of accountability may explain how such violations occur in the LAPD in a case of this kind. I fail to see why it was such a difficult decision to take a prisoner to a hospital if he was sweating, having trouble walking, and claiming to have asthma. While there are medical conditions that are less urgent, a difficulty breathing is a medical condition warranting immediate action. Prisoners are routinely taken to hospitals for any number of reasons. This was not a tough call. It has been a year since Azucena died and it would seem that his family deserves from some real action and some real answers from the LAPD. Unfortunately, it sounds like a torts lawsuit may be the only way to force such answers through the litigation process.
Source: LA Times