LOS ANGELES (AP) — Police officers in the California desert city of El Centro repeatedly ignored signs of medical distress in a man they suspected of being a drug dealer, even telling a 911 dispatcher to ignore calls from his family for help, according to a video released on a judge's order.
Hours later, the man was dead from methamphetamine intoxication.
The video released Thursday was taken by cameras worn by El Centro police officers who pulled over 57-year-old Charlie Sampson on Dec. 3, 2013. It was released Thursday following a judge's Aug. 31 ruling that cited public interest in police dealings with minorities and law enforcement's use of body cameras.
"I am still shaking from watching this video. I am literally stunned," said Charis Kubrin, a criminologist at the University of California at Irvine who teaches about police use of force. "The whole thing is unbelievable."
The 15-minute video, edited down from hours of footage and released by the Sampson family's attorneys, begins with police pulling Sampson over before putting him in the back of a patrol car without being handcuffed. Shortly after, Sampson is shown surreptitiously putting something in his mouth — methamphetamine, according to his family's attorney, who added that he might have taken the pill so police wouldn't find it.
At various points over the course of the next two hours as police searched his home and questioned him about where the drugs were, Sampson is shown barely able to stand, speaking unintelligibly, struggling to breathe, moaning and drenched in sweat, though he's outside in December and complaining of the cold.
Upon seeing Sampson, his distressed family members ask officers to help him, saying he was clearly sick. One of them called 911.
Soon after, an officer calls the 911 dispatcher and tells her to ignore any calls from the address.
"The guy we're out with right now is putting on somewhat of a show," the officer says. "If we need it, we'll advise."
Two hours later, Sampson was pronounced dead at a hospital. He was taken there by a police officer who ignored instructions to take Sampson to jail for booking on a charge of violating his probation by possessing a shotgun, according to the Sampson family's attorney, Christopher Morris.
The video shows the moment when a doctor tells Sampson's wife that her husband had died — his heart had stopped by the time he arrived.
"When he left home it hadn't," wails his wife of 40 years, Laverne Sampson. "We kept telling them something was wrong. They acted like they didn't care."
Attorneys for El Centro and the city's police chief, Eddie Madueno, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.
In court records, the officers deny wrongdoing and argue that Sampson caused his own death. They did not elaborate.
Laverne Sampson and her children are suing the city, the department and the officers involved, accusing them of wrongful death and negligence. It seeks unspecified damages.
On Thursday, Laverne Sampson said she wanted the video released because she wants the officers involved held accountable.
"He was my husband, he was my kids' father, and my grandkids' grandfather. He was somebody," she said. "He deserved medical attention and they denied him that."
Morris, the family's attorney, said Sampson — a father of two — had a small meth habit but was a good man providing for his family by working on the line at a sugar factory.
He said police pulled him over because they were convinced Sampson was a major drug dealer based on a tip from a confidential informant, but added that no drugs were found in his home.
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