The Tucson Police Department released details yesterday about the death of 29-year-old Damien Alvarado, who died in police custody on March 22, 2020. This comes after community outrage over a different in-custody death of Carlos Adrián Ingram-López, a 27-year-old who died one month later.
On that day in March at 5:15 p.m., TPD responded to a multiple-vehicle, serious-injury collision at Campbell Avenue and Prince Road. When officers arrived at the scene, they learned that a Hispanic male suspect, later identified as Alvarado, had fled the scene of the crash on foot.
Police said two civilians, a father and son, followed Alvarado and prevented him from climbing over a cement wall until officers caught up to him.
A compilation of body camera footage shows a violent struggle between Alvarado and the first officer who arrived at the wall. At one point, the officer’s body camera was hit and malfunctioned. Police said Alvarado grabbed the officer’s magazine from his belt, and the officer struggled to retain his weapon and punched Alvarado three times with “no apparent effect.”
He was eventually held on the ground in a face-down position. As other officers arrived, footage shows Alvarado being tased but still struggling to break free. He can be heard yelling “Stop! Stop!”
As more officers arrived to help restrain him, Alvarado said “I can’t breathe” to which an officer replied “Yes you can, you’re talking.”
After he was handcuffed behind his back, his legs were restrained using two Total Appendage Restraint Procedure devices. Alvarado continued to resist, moan and yell out “I can’t breathe.”
Officers dismissed his complaints, and one said “If you can complain, you can breathe just fine.”
A spit hood was placed over Alvarado’s head before Tucson Fire Department medics arrived at the scene. Alvarado continued to resist and moan as medical responders assessed him.
According to police, TFD performed an initial medical examination and cleared him for transport to the jail.
Alvarado was silent for several minutes as the medics left the scene and officers talked to each other. Then, one officer asked “Is he still breathing?” Another responded “I dunno.”
The officers rolled him on his back and began administering CPR. They noticed he was gurgling and his eyes were rolled back. Tucson Fire was called back to the scene, and the officers removed his restraints and carried him to a gurney where medics took over CPR.
Alvarado was declared dead at 6:30 p.m. at Banner University Medical Center.
The Office of the Medical Examiner determined in Alvarado’s autopsy that the contributing causes of his death were sudden cardiac arrest due to acute methamphetamine intoxication, restraint and dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a heart condition. The manner of death was determined to be accidental.
The details of Alvarado’s death are strikingly similar to Ingram-López, who suffered cardiac arrest from a combination of physical restraint by Tucson police officers and acute cocaine intoxication.
Ingram-López’s grandmother called 911 at 1 a.m. on April 21, 2020 to report that her grandson was “drunk, yelling and running naked.”
Body camera footage from that encounter shows officers arriving at the home and screaming at Ingram-López to “get on the fucking ground.” Ingram-López is shown running to the garage, where officers handcuff him behind his back and lay him face-down on the floor.
The audio captures Ingram-López screaming in distress, saying repeatedly “no,” “please” and “I’m sorry.” Magnus said Ingram-López was “highly erratic” at the beginning of the encounter, but became more compliant.
The officers in the video repeatedly told Ingram-López to “relax” as they restrained him, while he is heard breathing heavily, moaning and calling out for his nana (grandmother) asking for water.
Ingram-López asked the officers repeatedly for water and they ignored his requests. At one point, he told the officers he couldn’t breathe.
After a few minutes of silence, officers can be heard asking “Is he breathing?” They rolled his unconscious body over and distributed NARCAN, a drug that is used to reverse overdoses.
When Ingram-López didn’t respond to that, the officers began administering CPR and continued to do so until Tucson Fire Department paramedics showed up.
Ingram-López was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
TPD Chief Chris Magnus said the three officers involved in detaining Ingram-López violated department policies for interacting with people who are in mental distress or under the influence of drugs. All three officers have resigned; Magnus added that they would have been fired otherwise for “multiple policy violations.”
With Alvarado’s death, Tucson police determined the officers’ use of force was appropriate in that situation.
Magnus said there have been five in-custody deaths over the past decade where some type
of restraint was used by the officers involved.