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Joseph Hutcheson Federal Civil Rights Complaint

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*This is a copy of the civil rights complaint I constructed and filed jointly with the Hutcheson Family against the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department on September 22, 2015.  Due to technical limitations, I had to leave out the still pictures contained in the incident section of the original complaint (that section should be read while following along with the video).

 

COMPLAINT

 

An encounter with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department on August 1, 2015 at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas, Texas led to the demise of Joseph Hutcheson, we the undersigned believe his civil rights were violated in three different ways. First, we believe the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department failed to properly train their deputies to encounter someone having a psychological or manic episode and that such lack of training violated Hutcheson’s right to life. Second, we believe the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department exercised excessive force in their treatment of Joseph Hutcheson and that such force violated Hutcheson’s right to life. Third, we believe that the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department failed to administer proper medical aid to Hutcheson and by improper training directly contributed to his death and that such ignorance violated Hutcheson’s right to life. We have provided supporting evidence and documents. We further ask that you use your power to secure all evidence already collected in the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department’s own investigation. With the aforementioned reasons in mind, we sign this formal complaint and ask the Department of Justice to investigate the actions of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department in the homicide of Joseph Hutcheson.

 

Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood,

Executive Director of Hope for Peace & Justice

 

Nicol Hutcheson,

Wife of Joseph Hutcheson

 

Ruth Boatner,

Mother of Joseph Hutcheson

 

James E. Hutcheson,

Brother of Joseph Hutcheson

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 I. INICIDENT

II. WITNESS QUOTES

III. MEDICAL EXAMINER SUMMARY

IV. INDEPENDENT AUTOPSY SUMMARY

V.  INDEPENDENT AUTOPSY REPORT

 

 

I.  INCIDENT

*In the original complaint, there are still pictures that accompany the text below.  This section is better understood when read while following along with the video.

video: http://www.dallascounty.org/department/sheriff/video/lsjc_lobby.php

 

On August 1, 2015 around 10am, Joseph Hutcheson parked his truck in the crosswalk on Commerce Street outside of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas, Texas. Behaving erratically, Hutcheson stumbled up the hill into the main lobby. Entering the lobby, Hutcheson continues to act erratically and shouts out repeatedly, “My wife is trying to kill me!” On the video Hutcheson appears sick and disoriented. Having failed to receive the care that he needed at Parkland Hospital earlier in the day, the Hutcheson family believes that Hutcheson entered the jail desperate to get help after suffering from the effects of drug use and heart trouble. Regardless, there is no question that Hutcheson entered the lobby in desperate need of help.

 

People in the lobby were frightened of Hutcheson. To which, according to witness April Berryhill (http://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/headlines/20150801-authorities-investigating-after-man-dies-in-dallas-county-jail-lobby.ece), Hutcheson responded, “Don’t be scared of me. I just need some help.” One deputy initially approaches Hutcheson and then multiple others join him. At this point, Hutcheson appears to be breathing heavily, walking oddly and acting strangely in obvious duress. Running up aggressively, a single deputy later approaches Hutcheson and violently forces him to the ground (2:16). By failing to properly identify Hutcheson as someone in need of medical attention and responding with excessive force, we believe the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department began to violate Hutcheson’s civil rights.

 

We were surprised to know that the only training that the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department has for dealing with someone who is manic is blunt force. Hutcheson was in the lobby for a little over two minutes before the deputy decided to take this action. When the deputies got Hutcheson to the ground, other deputies piled on. At this point (2:25) it is obvious that the deputies have Hutcheson contained; yet they still continue to exert great force on him.

 

With knees to the back and neck, the officers begin to restrict Hutcheson’s ability to breath. We believe that the amount of force shown in the video is excessive and a violation of Hutcheson’s civil rights.

 

Around 3:20, officers appear to have Hutcheson contained.

 

Then, Hutcheson tries to turn over to breath (3:40).

 

While the deputy on the right acts nonchalantly, the two deputies to the left engage Hutcheson again. Both deputies come down on Hutcheson with unnecessary and excessive homicidal force.

 

We believe that Hutcheson was in critical condition around this point and the deputies kept going. The deputy places excessive force on the neck and chest of Hutcheson. If Hutcheson was such a threat, then why is this woman still acting so nonchalant?

 

Around 3:52, another deputy runs up and places his foot on Hutcheson’s ankle.

 

A few seconds later (4:00), the deputy gives his legs a push to see if there is any life left in them. There is no push back. The deputy in the back then proceeds to lift up Hutcheson’s legs and push them to the front. We believe this further obstructed any chance that Hutcheson had to breath.  At 4:25 there are six deputies around Hutcheson and one is still nonchalantly on her phone or radio, Hutcheson is not a threat and excessive force is still being used against him. Deputies are still on top of him and obstructing his ability to breath.

 

Around 4:51, we believe the deputies started to realize what they did. The deputy who placed his knees on the neck and throat of Hutcheson puts his arms out to absolve himself of responsibility.

 

The deputy is told to leave soon after.

 

For well over three minutes, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department used excessive force on Hutcheson. When they realized what they had done, they tried to save him. Unfortunately, the deputies didn’t seem to have training on how to do that either.

 

Around 5:40, the deputies started to lift Hutcheson to his knees. When you first learn about first-aid, you are taught to lay someone in medical distress flat on the ground not to lift them up. It seems obvious that holding someone up makes it more difficult for someone to breath.

 

Over the next few minutes, deputies pull and tug at Hutcheson. There is no question that they know he is in medical distress. Regardless of their intentions, the deputies continue to block Hutcheson’s airway by holding him up and failing to administer proper lifesaving techniques.

 

At 8:50, the deputies have still not secured Hutcheson proper medical care.

 

At 9:26, deputies begin to get more worried.

 

At 9:56, over FOUR MINUTES after Hutcheson is unresponsive, the first medical professional arrives (in a facility that has a fully functioning medical clinic).

 

On the advice of the medical professional, deputies remove the handcuffs at 11:02 (over FIVE MINUTES after Hutcheson was unresponsive).

 

Hutcheson is finally laid on his back at 11:28.

 

Hutcheson has already pissed himself.

 

The lobby is cleared at 11:50. For almost twelve minutes, the deputies allowed the lobby to stay open. If Hutcheson was as dangerous as all of the force he received indicates, then why did they keep the lobby open? CPR was started around 12:04. In a facility supposed to be filled with people who know CPR, Hutcheson got help SIX MINUTES after he became unresponsive.

 

Around 13:40, a full EIGHT MINUTES after he became unresponsive, a deputy places hands of aid and not harm on Hutcheson for the first time.

 

Nurses and Dallas County Fire and Rescue arrived to offer aid. After consistent interventions to try to save his life, Hutcheson was transported to Parkland Hospital (40:10).

 

Joseph Hutcheson was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital not long after leaving the Lew Sterrett Justice Center.

 

To add insult to injury, authorities responded to public concern about the tragedy by releasing Hutcheson’s criminal background and speculating that they could see narcotics in his truck. Later, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department had to go back and said there actually were no drugs in the truck.

 

II.  WITNESS QUOTES

 

*While there are many other witnesses who have been interviewed by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, Berryhill and White are significant because they were amongst the first ones to give statements after the incident.

 

April Berryhill

 

“He came in saying, ‘Don’t be scared of me. I just need some help.’ They just tackled him as if he’d threatened their lives,” Berryhill said. “He didn’t have a weapon. He wasn’t swinging at the officers. He just needed help.”

 

– http://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/headlines/20150801-authorities-investigating-after-man-dies-in-dallas-county-jail-lobby.ece

 

“They had him in handcuffs, he wasn’t fighting back, he wasn’t, not letting them restrain him, he was saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breath,'” said April Berryhill, who was also waiting in the jail’s lobby.

“One of the officers had him down on the ground with his knee on his neck.”

The county says a nurse was called while Hutcheson was handcuffed and unresponsive. CPR was performed until Dallas Fire-Rescue paramedics arrived to take Hutcheson to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

 

– http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/local/2015/08/01/man-unresponsive-after-dallas-jail-scuffle/30986151/

 

“They had him on the ground trying to get him handcuffed,” said April Berryhill, a witness. “They got him handcuffed, and one of the jailers had his knee blocking [Joseph Hutcheson’s] airway. In between the breaths, the man is going, ‘I can’t breathe. I’m sorry. Please don’t kill me.’ Then you didn’t hear anything from him anymore.”

Berryhill says Joseph Hutcheson turned blue and urinated on himself. At one point, she approached an officer, telling him that it didn’t look like Joseph Hutcheson was breathing.

“He said, ‘Oh, he’s faking it,'” Berryhill said, adding that it took about 20 minutes before medical assistance was provided.

 

http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/local/dallas-county/2015/08/17/questions-mount–family–man-who-died–dallas-co-jail/31884433/

 

Tiffany Todd White

 

“When a person is asking for help, someone should reach out and help them…try and see what’s going on with the person before you go in and start treating him like a dog,” said Tiffany Todd White, a visitor at the jail who saw the incident.

 

http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/local/2015/08/01/man-unresponsive-after-dallas-jail-scuffle/30986151/

 

 

III.  MEDICAL EXAMINER SUMMARY

 

On August 31, the Medical Examiner in Dallas County declared Hutcheson’s death to be a homicide based on the “combined effects of cocaine and methamphetamine, compounded by hypertensive cardiovascular disease and physiologic stress associated with struggle and restraint.”

 

http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2015/08/death-of-man-in-dallas-county-jail-lobby-ruled-a-homicide-according-to-dallas-county-medical-examiner.html/

 

 

IV.  INDEPENDENT AUTOPSY SUMMARY

 

 

In her attached report, Dr. Amy Gruszecki ruled the death of Hutcheson a homicide based on “combined effects of mechanical asphyxia; the physical stress associated with struggle and restraint and toxic effects of cocaine and methamphetamine.”

 

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