When Sgt. James Brown self-reported to jail to serve a two-day DWI sentence in July 2012, his family didn’t think he would come back on Sunday in a casket.
But that’s exactly what happened to the African-American active-duty soldier who served two tours in Iraq. Now, a newly released video from the El Paso County Jail in Texas where he died is shedding light on Brown’s last moments alive.
In the graphic video above, Brown, who was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas at the time of his death, reportedly tells officers in riot gear that he cannot breathe as they subdue him. Officers stormed his tiny cell after he refused to answer questions about an incident that occurred off camera that made the veteran bleed. Blood can be seen smeared on the Plexiglass of his cell as an officer coaxes Brown to talk.
It’s unclear why the officers stormed James’ cell with shields and helmets instead of calling emergency services, but in the video, the officers continually ignore his cries for help. He shows little resistance as the officers hold him down. In the course of the incident, Brown tells the officers he cannot breathe at least 20 times.
The Huffington Post writes:
Eventually, the officers lift Brown over their shoulders and carry him into another room, where his face is covered with a “spit mask,” according to CNN.
Officers inject him with two shots of lorazepam, a sedative, according to KFOX. Brown begs for water, telling officers, “I’ve got problems.” They eventually give him a small cup half-filled with water. After the officers take Brown back to his cell, his breathing worsens. He can be seen on the floor, unresponsive.
Brown is placed on the cell floor, half-naked, breathing shallowly and not blinking. Eventually, officers place him on a gurney and transport him to a medical center, where he is officially pronounced dead.
Brown was only in police custody for one day. After his first night in jail, Brown called his mother to pay a fine in lieu of spending time behind bars. By the time she paid the fine, Brown passed away, the Huffington Post reports.
An autopsy report showed Brown died of natural causes, citing “sickle-cell crisis,” as a factor. His family, however, say the veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder died as a result of his treatment in police custody.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office stands by the autopsy report, telling CNN that Brown’s death was not caused by officers who handled the veteran in jail:
“Mr. Brown’s death was an unfortunate tragedy… after a thorough investigation it was determined that his death was caused by a pre-existing medical condition.”
Maintaining that Brown’s constitutional rights were violated, his family has filed a lawsuit against El Paso County for unspecified damages.