“They’re killing me right now… I can’t breathe.”
Those are among the final words of an Oakland man shouting to his sister as Oakland Police Department officers pinned him to the ground—a knee on his back—moments before he died. Hernan Jaramillo screamed those words over and again, according to grainy body cam footage from the 2013 incident that sparked a civil rights lawsuit (PDF) the city is now settling (PDF) for $450,000.
“Sir, we’re not killing you,” one of the handful of officers on the scene is overheard saying calmly. Minutes later, the 51-year-old man is dead. The footage has been sealed under a protective order, but the Contra Costa Times managed to get ahold of it and published it Tuesday.
The body-cam tape and a bystander’s mobile-phone footage were pieces of evidence that played a part in bringing the case to a resolution. And sometimes, as in this case, the sound on a video is more powerful than the images. The episode is part and parcel of the ever-emerging YouTube society, where police are filming the public in a bid to protect themselves and to facilitate transparency with the cell-phone camera-wielding public. And as more police departments gobble up body and dash cams in the wake of high-profile shootings nationwide, police-produced footage, or the absence of it, is likely to become a key facet of police abuse lawsuits.
The settlement comes as a Florida cop was indicted Wednesday for allegedly beating a suspect, a scene that was captured on video, and seven months after the New York Police Department settled for $5.9 million a similar yet high-profile wrongful death case, captured on film, of a man being arrested for selling single cigarettes and yelling, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” as officers held him in a chokehold.
The facts of the Oakland case, while disputed, are laid out in federal court documents. Not disputed is the incident leading to Jaramillo’s death and an early morning July 8, 2013 phone call to the Oakland Police Department from Jaramillo’s sister, Ana Biocini. The sister called police after she heard “a great deal of noise for reasons unknown” in her brother’s bedroom, according to the family’s lawsuit. The suit said she stayed in her bedroom “out of fear she would be attacked by the perceived intruder.”
When police got there, the suit says, they handcuffed the brother “without any lawful reason or justification” and forced him out of the house.
“All the while, Ms. Biocini implored the defendant officers to stop, insisting that her brother was not the perceived intruder,” according to the suit. The suit said the man struggled, was thrown on the ground and “dragged approximately 20 feet on his back to the sidewalk.” He was then thrown “face down on to the ground,” according to the suit, and an officer held his knee to Jaramillo’s back “while other officers used their weight to hold him down.”
The suit said the man “screamed out for help and strained to breathe under the collective weight of the three Defendant officers,” which was partly captured on grainy body cam footage.
The police department maintained a different set of facts and said the man had a “potentially lethal dose of cocaine in his system” (PDF), saying:
On July 8, 2013, Ms. Biocini called 911 to report that intruders broke into her home and were trying to kill her brother, Mr. Jaramillo. Extremely frightened and locked in her bedroom, Ms. Biocini let responding officers into her home by passing one officer a key through her bedroom window. When officers knocked on a bedroom door, Mr. Jaramillo would not open it at first and then stuck his head out. Mr. Jaramillo was intoxicated. The house was in disarray. Ms. Biocini was still very frightened. The officers handcuffed Mr. Jaramillo and escorted him out the home so that they could investigate. Mr. Jaramillo tensed up and resisted. The officers explained to him that he was not under arrest and asked him to sit in a patrol car with his feet outside the car. Mr. Jaramillo refused and resisted. One of his hands became un-cuffed and Mr. Jaramillo continued resisting. Mr. Jaramillo fell to the ground where the officers were able to re-handcuff Mr. Jaramillo.
While on the ground Mr. Jaramillo was screaming. Ms. Biocini and officers encouraged Mr. Jaramillo to relax. He stopped screaming and was breathing. The officers called an ambulance. Mr. Jaramillo was breathing. When the paramedics arrived, Mr. Jaramillo had become unresponsive. Mr. Jaramillo had a potentially lethal dose of cocaine in his system. The Coroner listed the cause of death as “multiple drug intoxication associated with physical exertion.”
Neither the police department nor the family’s lawyers immediately returned messages seeking comment for this story.