3 recordings. 3 cries of ‘I can’t breathe.’ 3 black men dead after interactions with police
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo rejected the idea that the two officers who lacked experience on his force are less culpable in George Floyd’s killing, saying Floyd “was expecting humanity” that he did not get that day.
In the days since George Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe tugged at the world’s conscience, two similar deadly encounters involving police officers have come to wider public attention.
There are three sets of recordings. Three cries of “I can’t breathe.” Three black men who died shortly after struggles with law enforcement officers who were trying to arrest them.
Floyd died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, and bystander video showed a police officer kneeling on the side of his neck as officers tried to subdue him. That sparked days of massive protests in cities across the nation and a sweeping discussion about race relations, reform of policing and more.
Floyd’s cries themselves were an echo of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after pleading that he couldn’t breathe while a New York police officer subdued him.
Days after Floyd’s death, two other men began to capture national headlines, though they’d died months before.
They were Javier Ambler, who died last year in Austin, Texas, following a vehicle chase; and Manuel Ellis in Tacoma, Washington, who died in March. Both are heard in video or audio recordings saying they couldn’t breathe. Both cases are under investigation, and relatives of both men are asking for prosecutions.
In Minnesota, four now-fired officers face charges in Floyd’s death, including one charged with second-degree murder.
Here is a look at the other two cases:
Texas: Javier Ambler
Javier Ambler II died following a police encounter in March 2019 — but police video has shed new light on the incident, including his cries of “I can’t breathe.”
Body camera video released Monday by the Austin Police Department shows sheriff’s deputies from Williamson County arresting Ambler, 40, following a vehicle pursuit.
Authorities said the incident started in Texas’ Williamson County, with Ambler failing to dim his vehicle’s headlights as he drove past a deputy.
The deputy tried to stop Ambler, but Ambler kept driving, ultimately leading officers on a 22-minute chase that ended one county to the south, in the city of Austin, authorities said.
After crashing his vehicle in Austin, Ambler exited with his hands raised, but resisted deputies’ attempts to handcuff him and refused to follow commands, a Williamson County Sheriff’s Office report says. At least one deputy used a Taser on him, the report says.
An Austin police officer arrived — and it’s his body camera video that was released Monday. By the time he gets there, deputies already are struggling with Ambler.
In the video, Ambler says “I have congestive heart failure,” as well as “I can’t breathe,” several times.
About two minutes after the video first records Ambler saying he has heart failure — and nearly 90 seconds after he’s first heard saying he can’t breathe — deputies appear to have handcuffed Ambler.
But less than 30 seconds after he’s handcuffed, officers appear to realize Ambler is unresponsive. An officer is heard saying so in a radio request for emergency medical services.
After officers check for a pulse and find none, Ambler’s handcuffs are removed, and officers can be heard administering CPR until medical units arrive.
Ambler was taken to a hospital in Austin, where he was pronounced dead less than an hour after the pursuit ended, according to reports from authorities.
The cause of death was congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, “in combination with forcible restraint,” according to the custodial death report from the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The manner of death was homicide, the report reads.
A production crew from the A&E show “Live PD” was at the arrest scene, having ridden with some of the officers. But the show was not on the air at the time, and the crew’s footage never aired, A&E said.
The district attorney of Travis County says she’s leading an investigation into Ambler’s death, but that it is being “stymied by a lack of cooperation from the Williamson County Sheriff’s and ‘Live PD.’ “
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said Monday she has requested body cam videos from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the television show, but hasn’t been able to obtain them.
The sheriff’s office said Tuesday that Moore had made “misleading statements,” and that it is willing to participate in her investigation but has not been contacted by her office.
“Any attempt to say we have slowed or otherwise impeded the investigation is absolutely false. We participated fully in the investigation launched by the Austin Police Department, the results of which have been forwarded to the Travis County D.A.,” the sheriff’s office said.
The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department’s office of professional standards had concluded that deputies acted “in accordance” with the department’s policies.
A&E said Tuesday that neither the network “nor the producers of ‘Live PD’ were asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the district attorney’s office.”
A&E said it had disposed of its unaired footage — in accordance with policies mean to “avoid having footage used by law enforcement against private citizens” — after “learning that the investigation had concluded.”
No Austin police officers are under investigation, Moore said. She said she intends to present the case to a grand jury this summer.
Jeff Edwards, an attorney for Ambler’s family, has called on Moore to prosecute the case.
Ambler’s mother, Martiza Ambler, told CNN Tuesday that she knows not all officers are bad, but she would like officers involved in her son’s arrest to go to jail, “because they took a life.”
“And they use their badge, they use their gun, they use their position to try to overcome people, and it’s not right,” she said. “So if they need to be retrained in how to arrest people, then they need to do that,” she said.
Washington state: Manuel Ellis
In Tacoma, Washington, police tried to arrest Manuel Ellis on March 3, alleging the 33-year-old was “trying to open car doors of occupied vehicles.”
A physical altercation ensued, and Ellis had to be restrained, police said.
Police dispatch audio, captured by the website Broadcastify, provides additional details. Officers can be heard asking for hobbles — a kind of leg restraint. About 50 seconds later, as an officer relays a message to the dispatcher, a male voice can be heard in the background exclaiming, “I can’t breathe.”
That voice belonged to Ellis, according to James Bible, an attorney for Ellis’ family.
Officers called for medical assistance, but Ellis died at the scene.
Ellis’ cause of death was respiratory arrest due to hypoxia caused by physical restraint, the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office determined. Hypoxia is a condition in which the body is deprived of oxygen.
His death has sparked protests in the city of 218,000 located about 30 miles south of Seattle.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating Ellis’ death, did not return CNN’s calls seeking comment.
“There were no knees on heads, there was no cutting off of circulation, none of that,” department spokesman Ed Troyer told CNN affiliate KIRO. “He was handcuffed, he was talking, he was breathing and throughout the process when he had trouble breathing, officers set him on his side and got him help.”
Two videos from a bystander, posted on social media, also appear to show parts of the encounter.
One video appears to show officers striking a black man as he lies on the ground. A second video appears to show officers holding the man while he’s on the ground and telling him to put his hands behind his back. Bible says the man is Ellis.
Four police officers have been placed on administrative leave. None faces charges.
Ellis’ family is calling for four officers to be fired and prosecuted.
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodard has called for the same, spurring backlash from the local police union, which accuses her of a rush to judgment.