Like many police chiefs across the country, Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus spoke out against the death of George Floyd as if it were an isolated incident, a result of just a few bad apples; not at all a reflection of police culture nationwide
A horrid death like that would never happen at the Tucson Police Department, Chief Magnus explained in a newspaper op-ed last month, because not only had he enacted the necessary policies and training to prevent such shocking cases of abuse from happening, he also created a culture of policing committed to “accountability and transparency.”
But then it was revealed the Tucson Police Department was involved in its own coverup of a similar incident that left a 27-year-old man dead after he was forced facedown in a restraint with a thermal blanket over him.
There was even body cam footage of the incident that took place on April 21 but had remained under wraps until the independent news site, the Tucson Sentinel, broke the story on Tuesday where it has become international news.
The body cam footage shows Carlos Adrian Ingram-Lopez died after vomiting into the spit mask police had placed on him during a struggle that last more than 12 minutes.
“I can’t breathe!” Ingram-Lopez cried during the struggle at one point. He also repeatedly asked for a glass of water and called for his grandmother, Nana, to help him.
Unfortunately, it was his grandmother who had called the cops, thinking they would arrive to help her son who was naked and drunk and not acting coherently.
Three cops arrived and chased him into the garage where they ordered him down on the ground. He complied at first by laying on the ground but police say he then began to struggle.
An internal investigation determined they violated several policies and training protocols. An autopsy determined Ingram-Lopez died of cardiac arrest as a result of the physical restraint and also cocaine intoxication.
The three officers, Ryan Starbuck, Jonathan Jackson and Samuel Routledge, were allowed to resign quietly this month after an internal investigation determined they violated several policies and training procedures. Initially, all three officers were allowed to return to work shortly after the incident.
The chief was kept in the dark about the incident, according to the Tucson Sentinel:
One said that lower-level commanders in TPD “downplayed the investigation… they were trying to white-wash this” internally.
Sources indicated that members of the City Council were first informed of the death last week, and that the police chief may not have been told of the seriousness of the incident until the internal investigation was complete. Magnus individually showed the 20-minute video to the mayor and members of the Council on Monday. He provided them with limited information about the incident late last week.
Romero said she told Chief Magnus on Monday that “We need to make sure that this is made public as quickly as possible… that we put out all of the information to the community.”
“Count on me proposing immediate action to adopt reforms, so we can prevent similar things from happening again,” she told TucsonSentinel.com on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what the process or protocol is,” Romero said of the two-month delay in any information on the death being made public. “But if it’s not written anywhere that mayor and Council and community are not told immediately, I want that to change.”
“Whoever was involved in making the decision to not apprise the chief and his deputies, and mayor and Council, that is unacceptable,” Romero said. “Every in-custody death needs to be disclosed immediately.”
Chief Magnus offered to submit his resignation but the city manager did not accept the resignation. It was only weeks earlier he stated the following in his op-ed:
What happened to George Floyd in Minnesota is indefensible. Every good police officer — every decent human being — is outraged by it. Police officers are sworn to protect life, including the lives of those we arrest.
Progressive police departments work hard to prevent tragedies like this from happening. It’s done by taking a comprehensive approach that includes thoughtfully developed policies, a diverse workforce, innovative training, meaningful supervision, community oversight, and a commitment to both accountability and transparency.
The Tucson Police Department has been ahead of the curve in working to bring each of these elements to bear on issues of race, use of force, and all aspects of our service to the public.
It starts with our policy, which makes clear that any use of force must be lawful, objectively reasonable, proportionate to the threat, and not the result of officer provocation.
Watch the shortened edited video above or the entire 25-minute video below. Read the results of the internal affairs investigation here. The Pima County Attorney’s Office is also reviewing the case to see if charges will be filed.