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Coroner: Man had enlarged heart, drugs in system

Police officers on leave after beating that preceded death

A videotape shows police officers struggling with Nathaniel Jones.
A videotape shows police officers struggling with Nathaniel Jones.

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Nathaniel Jones
Crime, Law and Justice
Cincinnati (Ohio)

CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- A 350-pound man who died after being beaten by police when they tried to subdue him had an enlarged heart, and cocaine and PCP in his system, the Hamilton County coroner's office said Monday.

A statement from coroner Carl Parrott Jr. said Nathaniel Jones, 41, "had a markedly enlarged heart, consistent with hypertensive heart disease."

Preliminary results of drug testing showed the presence of cocaine and PCP, or "angel dust," in Jones' system, the coroner's statement said.

"Each of these drugs is a central nervous system stimulant and has been associated in some cases with bizarre and violently aggressive behavior," the statement said.

The incident Sunday morning was captured on videotape by a camera mounted on a police cruiser.

The tape showed four white police officers using nightsticks to subdue Jones, who is black, after he lunged at one officer.

The video sparked outrage in Cincinnati, where four days of rioting erupted in April 2001 after a white police officer killed an unarmed 19-year-old black man.

"How many of our people have to die before the city decides to do something about it?" Nathaniel Livingston Jr. of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati told The Associated Press.

"We are not trying to say that this gentleman was innocent. I don't know what the circumstances were, but I have seen the film, and the kind of beating that I observed would raise questions in anyone's mind," said Dr. Calvert Smith, president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP.

Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. told CNN the video indicates the six officers acted properly.

"The officers came under attack. At one point, they're defending themselves. At another point, a transition is made to where they are trying to arrest a person for a felony act of violence," Streicher said.

"Certainly, the standard for use of force in the United States is that the officers can use force to defend themselves and/or to overcome resistance to arrest," Streicher said. (Streicher interview)

Mayor defends officers

Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said the officers were trying to control the situation and protect themselves.

"They controlled the situation, and even after they start trying to get the man down and telling him what to do, you can see him continue to wail and struggle and grab the nightstick," Luken said.

"The police officers had a legitimate interest in making absolutely certain that they protected their own lives and their own safety."

Luken, in an interview Monday night with CNN's Aaron Brown, added, "It is never pretty to watch, but if you look at the tape carefully, you'll see that the officers are carefully avoiding hitting this individual in the head."

The coroner's preliminary report said Jones had linear bruises on his right calf, right thigh, right buttock and right lower back, but "there was no evidence of transmission of force to internal organs."

The six officers involved were put on administrative leave, standard procedure in cases in which someone dies in custody, said Lt. Kurt Byrd of the Cincinnati Police Department.

Their treatment upset Roger Webster, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Cincinnati.

"The officers were treated as criminals," he said. "They were read their rights. In that video, what did these officers do wrong?"

Video shows attack, beating

The incident began at 5:45 a.m. Sunday, when the manager of a White Castle restaurant called the Cincinnati Fire Department to report a man unconscious on the floor, Byrd said.

When paramedics arrived, they found Jones and a woman with him who was also in some sort of medical distress, he said.

Jones then regained consciousness, began acting strangely and left the restaurant, Byrd said.

At that point, following standard procedure, the fire officials called police.

The videotape shows two white officers approaching Jones. The camera records Jones saying, "White boy, redneck," then lunging at one officer and attempting to put him in a headlock. (Account of video)

At that point, the officers wrestle Jones to the ground and use their metal nightsticks to subdue him.

They appear to strike him around the shoulders and torso numerous times, yelling repeatedly, "Put your hands behind your back!"

Four more officers arrive, including one black officer. The fight ends after three minutes with Jones lying on the ground, handcuffed.

At that point, the officers realized Jones was not breathing and called paramedics. After attempting CPR, the paramedics apparently took Jones to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

New procedures

The riots in 2001 began after the shooting death of Timothy Thomas, who was wanted on charges of fleeing police. The disturbances resulted in dozens of injuries, more than 800 arrests and widespread property damage.

Civil rights leaders blamed what they called years of abuse by the police department for the anger in the black community. Thomas was the 15th black person killed by police since 1995.

The city requested a federal investigation that led to an agreement in April 2002, signed by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, specifying when and how officers should use force, when and how they should chase suspects, and how they should deal with the mentally ill.

It also improved the procedures used in investigating complaints of police use of force and of police misconduct.

In February of this year, a black man was shot and killed by a white officer who had chased him from a store that had been broken into, police said.

A Citizen Complaint Authority review panel, the police and the county prosecutor decided the shooting was justified because the suspect was beating the officer with his nightstick, the AP reported.

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