Los Angeles police officers found reason to laugh after struggling with a schizophrenic man who died in their custody, new video showed Thursday.
The city paid the family of 56-year-old grandfather Vachel Howard a $2.85 million settlement after they filed suit over his June 2012 death at the LAPD’s 77th Street Station Jail.
The video of the fatal clash between Howard and several officers remained out of public view until ProPublica published the silent security camera footage Thursday.
It’s not clear why the officers were chuckling after a nurse examined the motionless Howard, then walked away to get her stethoscope. A lawyer for Howard’s daughter told the investigative news outlet that the video shows how unnecessary it was for him to die.
“Mr. Howard posed no threat whatsoever,” said V. James DeSimone. “He was down on the ground, six officers on top of him, no guns in the nearby vicinity executing a chokehold 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 police department and the city attorney’s office, which negotiated the settlement last fall after two years of litigation, declined ProPublica’s request for comment.
The officer believed to have used the chokehold received a 22-day suspension. Other officers at the jail that day said they feared for their own lives.
Howard was arrested June 4, 2012, on charges of driving under the influence, according to a 2013 review by the Board of Police Commissioners. Police suspected he had smoked crack and marijuana and possibly taken PCP.
He told one officer after a strip search that he had a history of paranoid schizophrenia and had not taken his medicine recently. The officers described him as apparently hallucinating after his arrest but cooperative during the search.
The struggle began afterward, when police said he became agitated while handcuffed to a bench and advanced toward a nurse in the jail’s dispensary moments later.