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Pathologist: Concord man who died in police custody had 10x lethal amount of meth; video shows him wailing as cops try to cuff him

MARTINEZ — A Concord man who died while officers attempted to handcuff him had more than 10 times the amount of methamphetamine it takes to kill a person in his system, a forensic pathologist testified at a coroner’s inquest hearing Tuesday.

Steven K. Hankins, 50, suffered heart trauma as a result of the methamphetamine use during the Feb. 8 confrontation, said Dr. Ikechi Ogan, who performed the autopsy. At the time he passed out and died, Hankins was being detained by four to five Concord officers who had placed him on the ground and were preparing to put him in a restraint device.

“The level of drugs in his system were directly responsible for his cause of death,” Ogan testified, adding that he took special care to check for “major injuries” or obstruction of Hankins’ respiratory system, but found nothing.

It started as a mental health call, according to multiple officers who testified Tuesday.

Body camera footage from two Concord officers was played during the inquest. The video shows Hankins wailing and screaming “Help” as two officers grab both his arms and eventually — after additional officers arrived — begin lowering him to the ground.

After listening to several officers and Ogan testify, a coroner’s inquest jury ruled Hankins’ death an accident. The jury took seven minutes to make the decision. The jury’s ruling is the official cause of death, but carries no civil or criminal liability.

The confrontation took place inside a restroom at the Concord Homeless Shelter at 2047 Arnold Industrial Way. Police testified Tuesday that they received five 911 calls describing Hankins as acting increasingly erratic and possibly being under the influence or undergoing a mental health emergency.

Two officers answered the initial call: David Savage and Raul Alvarado. Their body camera footage shows the officers enter the restroom where Hankins is standing and yelling inaudibly. Within seconds, each officer grabs one of Hankins’ arms.

Alvarado testified that when this happened, Hankins tensed up even more. He described Hankins as more than 6 feet tall and more than 200 pounds, and very strong. Alvarado said he became afraid to let go of Hankins and called for backup, and that they planned to “escort” Hankins to the ground once more officers arrived.

Savage did not testify at the inquest hearing. During the encounter, Alvarado’s body camera was knocked off his uniform and stopped working, he testified.

Another officer, David Greenfield, testified that he arrived as his colleagues were lowering Hankins to the ground. He said he told Hankins to “relax” and that “everything’s going to be OK.” He said the officers carefully lowered Hankins to the ground.

“There was absolutely no force,” Greenfield testified. “It’s been referred to as a ‘takedown,’ but it wasn’t even a takedown. It was an escort, if anything.”

As they were preparing to place Hankins in a full-body restraint device known as a WRAP, Hankins went unresponsive, Greenfield said on the stand. At first, Greenfield believed Hankins was complying, then became concerned.

The body camera video shows officers check for a pulse and begin lifesaving measures roughly a minute after Hankins stops moving.

Concord Detective Kevin Giacoletto testified Hankins had a criminal history that included convictions related to fighting with police officers. He said Hankins had been out of jail for one week, and had been released to the homeless shelter before he died.

People at the shelter said Hankins had stayed up the entire night before his death, Giacoletto testified, adding that witnesses described Hankins shooting an invisible gun, shadowboxing and chasing imaginary mice.

“One witness even described him foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog,” Giacoletto testified. Giacoletto added that he believed the officers used restraint.

Per Contra Costa County protocol, all deaths involving police officers are reviewed by a coroner’s inquest jury in a public hearing. This includes police chases, shootings and use of force deaths, as well as natural deaths that occur when someone’s in jail or in police custody. The juries are asked to pick one of four causes of death: natural causes, suicide, accident or at the hands of another, not by accident.


Source: East Bay Pathologist: Concord man who died in police custody had 10x lethal amount of meth; video shows him wailing as cops try to cuff him

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