Police officers in the central Arkansas city of Conway have been cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the death of a man who was in custody.
The case has drawn attention because during his arrest, Lionel Morris told officers he could not breathe and three officers each used a foot to restrain him while he was on the ground.
Prosecuting Attorney for the 20th Judicial District Carol Crews said in mid-July she saw no evidence that warranted criminal charges. In an autopsy, Morris’ manner of death is classified as undetermined.
In explaining her decision, Crews said, “even when Mr. Morris can be heard on body camera video claiming to be in distress, he was actively refusing arrest and being combative with officers.”
On February 4, officers responded to a shoplifting call at a supermarket. Officers were told there were two suspects, a man and a woman.
Morris gave officers a fake name, according to the Conway Police Department. Officers then decided to arrest both suspects.
As officers attempted to handcuff Morris, he ran through the store, authorities said. When officers caught Morris, he resisted arrest for several minutes, video of the incident shows.
On Wednesday, police released video from officer-worn body cameras on YouTube. Officers are seen wrestling Morris to the ground. Authorities say during the struggle, Morris attempted to take out a pocket knife as he was being subdued, so officers used a Taser.
Morris can be heard on video screaming, “Help me, please. My heart. Call the ambulance.” He is heard telling the officers multiple times that he couldn’t breathe.
At one point after Morris’ plea for help, an officer can be heard yelling “I’ll break your f****** wrist.”
While Morris is restrained face down on the ground, one officer can be seen with a foot on his leg, another officer had a foot on his buttocks, and a third officer had a foot on his back.
Morris was eventually rolled into a recovery position as he continued to say that he couldn’t breathe, authorities said.
The police video shows he was rolled onto his side after several minutes of being on his stomach.”
When the Conway Fire Department arrived, they observed Morris moving with “shallow respirations,” according to a letter from Crews to state police investigators explaining why she was declining to charge the officers.
When emergency personnel arrived, they found Morris to be without a pulse and unresponsive. Morris was taken by ambulance to Conway Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, the letter said.
On June 18, the medical examiner determined Morris’ cause of death to be methamphetamine intoxication with exertion, struggle, restraint and conducted electrical deployment.
The manner of death was listed as undetermined. Morris also tested positive for methamphetamine, cannabinoids, opiates, morphine and amphetamines, according to findings from the toxicology report.
Crews concluded “there are no specific conclusions in the autopsy report that indicates the officers’ actions caused his death” nor “is there evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by the officers involved in this tragic situation.”
Conway police Chief William Tapley said the department and city offered their condolences to Morris’ family.
“The loss of a loved one is difficult no matter the circumstances,” he said.
Conway is about 35 miles north of Little Rock. It has about 67,000 residents, according to the US Census.