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Tucson Police Chief Offers To Resign Over Man's Death In Officers' Custody

Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus is offering to resign over the death of Carlos Ingram-Lopez – a man who died after being restrained by Tucson officers in April. Ingram-Lopez was handcuffed and kept face-down in a garage for some 12 minutes.

While the man was being restrained, police body cam video shows, he often cried out — repeatedly asking for water, and at times for his grandmother. At one point, he is heard saying he can't breathe.

"I cannot stress strongly enough that I feel terrible about the death of Carlos Ingram-Lopez during his encounter with officers from our department," Magnus said in an email to NPR Thursday.

Saying that he met with Ingram-Lopez's family Wednesday, the police chief added, "I hope we can learn from this incident, do better, and achieve at least some level of healing within the community."

Magnus offered to resign during a news conference Wednesday, where he revealed the results of an internal investigation into the case.

"I don't know whether the City Manager will accept my offer to resign but I'm sure his decision will be based on the perspectives of, and feedback from, the City Council members and Mayor," Magnus says. "I'm fine with whatever the direction is that they choose to take."

In response to Magnus's offer to quit, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero issued a statement saying, "I do not believe the Chief should resign."

Crediting Magnus with bringing "forward thinking changes" to the department, Romero said, "Now is the time to work together and rebuild public trust in our police department" by emphasizing transparency and accountability.

The police chief offered to resign after showing a body cam video from the night when Ingram-Lopez's grandmother called police around 1 a.m. on April 21, reportedly saying her grandson was drunk and behaving erratically.

When officers arrived, they followed Ingram-Lopez, 27, into a dark garage next to the home and restrained him. After a few moments, they also placed a disposable yellow plastic blanket over the man. The video shows that Ingram-Lopez seems to have been naked when the officers arrived.

The autopsy report says officers also placed a "spit hood" over his head for part of the time. It's not clear whether that is a reference to a second blanket that was placed over his upper torso and part of his head.

Ingram-Lopez periodically struggled against the officers, prompting them to tell him to calm down. An officer also threatened to use a Taser on him. At times, he was held down by his arms and legs; at others, by a hand to the center of his back.

Eventually, Ingram-Lopez became quiet and then unresponsive, prompting the officers to try to revive him.

"Hey!" one officer yelled repeatedly, as he rolled the man onto his side.

"What happened?" a woman asked, as she tried to enter the garage before being turned away by police.

The officers then radioed in a report that Ingram-Lopez was unconscious. Believing he may have overdosed, they gave him a dose of Narcan, an opioid overdose-reversing drug. They then began administering CPR to try to revive him.

When emergency medical personnel arrived, they took over the effort. But Ingram-Lopez was later declared deceased at the scene, Magnus said.

"We have determined that three involved officers committed multiple policy violations and failed to handle the incident consistent with their training," the police chief said. "It is, however, important to note there is no indication of malicious intent, nor did any of the officers deploy strikes, use chokeholds, or place a knee on Mr. Ingram-Lopez's neck."

Ingram-Lopez was Hispanic. The three primary officers who responded to the scene were both Black and white. All three of them resigned last week, as the department investigated the in-custody death.

If the officers had not resigned, Magnus said, they would have been fired, saying their actions fell short of department standards.

"To demonstrate my willingness to take accountability for these mistakes, I am offering my resignation to the mayor, the city council and the city manager which they can accept or handle as they deem appropriate," Magnus said, according to member station KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.

"The mistakes he referenced were twofold," the Fronteras Desk reports. "First, the incident was never reported to the public until it was reported by the Tucson Sentinel news website. Law enforcement agencies typically give at least rudimentary information about a death in custody within a few days. But also the Police Department's top officials were briefed, but didn't view the body cam footage, though investigators did."

Speaking alongside Magnus, Romero said it was "simply not acceptable" that city leaders and the public were left in the dark about the incident, as Arizona Public Media reports.

Both Romero and Magnus laid out plans to improve how in-custody deaths are handled.

An autopsy report from April 22 was inconclusive about the cause of Ingram-Lopez's death.

The report, from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, stated that his death was "ascribed to sudden cardiac arrest in the setting of acute cocaine intoxication and physical restraint with cardiac left ventricular hypertrophy as a significant contributing condition."

The autopsy report added, "The manner of death is undetermined."

In addition to the administrative inquiry within the police department, the case was also sent to the Pima County prosecutor's office. No determination has been made about potential criminal charges over Ingram-Lopez's death, Magnus said.

The death in police custody in Tucson comes as law enforcement agencies around the country are being closely scrutinized for their use of force.

As protests over the death of George Floyd began to spread in late May, Magnus — who in the past has expressed pride in his department's embrace of progressive policies — wrote a column for the Arizona Daily Star in which he said, "What happened to George Floyd in Minnesota is indefensible. Every good police officer — every decent human being — is outraged by it."

When asked if he had anything to add to that sentiment in the wake of Ingram-Lopez's death, Magnus said, in part:

"Nothing has changed in my view that the deaths of George Floyd and a number of other Black Americans in incidents involving the police are tragic and often avoidable. We must continue to focus on police organizational culture, building strong ties between police and the community, making sure good policies are in place, and providing police officers with the best possible training and supervision."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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