ProPublica Releases Video Showing in-Custody Death of Vachel Howard

Vachel Howard

ProPublica has released the video of the in-custody death of Vachel Howard that, it says, the Los Angeles Police Department didn't want released.

Howard died June 4, 2012, while in the custody of the LAPD's 77th Street Station jail. The 56-year-old grandfather of seven had been taken into custody for driving while intoxicated and had been strip-searched.


Howard told officers that he was schizophrenic, and officers suspected that he was under the influence of cocaine. However, hours later, Howard was pronounced dead.

According to police, Howard had become "violent and combative," and about half a dozen officers moved in to subdue him. The coroner attributed his death to cocaine intoxication, heart disease and the choke hold that one of the officers employed.


The footage from the jail had never been made available to the public. According to ProPublica, when the organization requested the footage, the clerk of the judge in the case said that he was not sure if the judge still had it and that it was not in the judge's practice to make "such material available to the news media."

Similarly, the Police Department declined a request for footage, and the city attorney's office said it didn't have it.


ProPublica managed to obtain the copies of the tapes nonetheless, saying that it was publishing them "in the interest of establishing a more complete public record of a controversial and costly death."

The video shows Howard, visibly agitated, sitting on a bench in a station. Shortly afterward, an altercation ensues, and officers are seen deploying a Taser to use on the 56-year-old while tackling him to the ground. Six officers can be seen surrounding Howard for about four minutes, handcuffing his hands and feet. One officer is directly on top of him with a knee in his back, and another can be seen briefly with his arm around Howard's neck and shoulders.


As Howard lies motionless on the ground after the scuffle, officers can be seen laughing. According to ProPublica, almost four minutes went by with Howard lying still on the ground before resuscitation efforts began.


Some four people performed CPR on Howard for over nine minutes before emergency medical personnel arrived and continued the efforts for another eight minutes before Howard was transported away.

“Mr. Howard posed no threat whatsoever,” V. James DeSimone, the lawyer for Howard's daughter, Tushana Howard, told ProPublica. “He was down on the ground, six officers on top of him, no guns in the nearby vicinity, executing a choke hold where there was no threat to the officers or to anybody else. It’s out of policy, it’s unlawful and in this case it’s murder.”


The family had sued the city in a wrongful death claim, which was settled in October 2015 for $2.85 million. However, neither the LAPD nor the city attorney's office acknowledged wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

The officer that used the choke hold, Juan Romero, was suspended after the incident for a mere 22 days. A criminal case against him was never pursued. Police, defending the use of force, claimed that Howard tried to bite Romero.


Howard's family had issues with how the case was handled, as well as with the lack of transparency in the case.

“It sort of says that we don’t matter because we don’t have the badge backing us,” Tushana Howard told ProPublica. “They matter more than we do. It’s more important for them to go home to their families instead of the people they come in contact with to return to their families as well.”


Read more at ProPublica

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