Derrick Scott was an African-American man who died after a struggle in police custody in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Because he repeatedly told officers, “I can’t breathe,” newly released body camera videos are gaining attention in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In the Scott case, however, the officers were exonerated of wrongdoing by the District Attorney. In Minneapolis, four officers were accused criminally in connection with Floyd’s death. The restraint techniques used were also different (police say they followed academy training protocols), and Scott, unlike Floyd, was armed with a handgun.
In body cam video, Derrick Elliott Olie Scott said, “I can’t breathe! Please! Help me! I can’t breathe.”
“I don’t care,” an officer, Jarred Tipton, told Scott on the video. “You can breathe just fine,” another officer said. However, Scott died a short time later.
Oklahoma City police released body cam videos of the struggle between Scott, 42, and officers in June 2020. That’s a year after the incident, which occurred on May 20, 2019. “In reviewing the video myself, I see the officers are using the academy taught techniques.. intended to offer them a reasonable amount of control and with the least likelihood of injuring the suspect,” said Capt. Larry Withrow, of the Oklahoma City Police Department, in a news conference. “They called for medical assistance immediately and continued to monitor the subject, so I’m not sure there was anything else they could have done.” According to Tulsa World, Black Lives Matter demanded the video’s release.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Say the Officers Called for Medical Help, Used Academy-Approved Holds & Scott Had a Firearm
Withrow held the news conference to explain authorities’ version of events. He said that officers “had responded to a disturbance call. A male subject had been involved in a disturbance and was brandishing a firearm.”
When the officers arrived on scene, they “located the suspect and began approaching and talking to him,” but he “ran from the officers,” according to Withtrow.
“They gave chase, and he was taken to the ground in the grass. The officers tried to gain control of the suspect. He began struggling with them. One of the officers straddled his back and was able to handcuff one of his hands. A second officer and later a third officer arrived and assisted in gaining control of the suspect.”
Withrow said the officers were “able to handcuff the suspect and get his hands under control, they rolled him over and were able to begin searching him, where they located a loaded firearm in his front pants pocket.”
2. Scott Told Police He Couldn’t Breathe & the Officers Called for Medical Assistance & Rolled Him Into a ‘Recovery Position’
During the incident, Withrow acknowledged, “the suspect stated he couldn’t breathe and at one point appeared to go unconscious according to one of the officers. The officer immediately got on the radio and called for medical assistance, and they rolled the subject over into a recovery position allowing for a better opportunity to breathe and relax while they maintained control of the suspect.”
He said that, once fire and EMS arrived on the scene, they “began to treat the suspect, and as they were trying to load him on the gurney, he became combative, jumping and kicking on the officers. The suspect was ultimately placed in the ambulance and later became unresponsive. One of the officers got in the ambulance and assisted EMS performing CPR.”
He was transported to a local hospital and later was announced to be deceased, said Withrow, who pointed out that Scott old officers he was “on narcotics.” He was “not cooperative with officers and was armed with a loaded handgun.”
Withrow said the death was “fully investigated” and the DA determined there was “no misconduct,” inappropriate or criminal action by the officers, so they were “cleared of criminal wrongdoing and returned to regular duty.”
3. Scott Had a Collapsed Lung, Heart Disease and Recent Meth Use
There was no fatal trauma on the body, according to the police commander. However, according to NBC News, Scott’s autopsy showed his cause of death was a “collapsed lung.” However, his manner of death was listed as undetermined.
The police actions did not cause “fatal trauma,” NBC News reported of the medical examiner’s findings, saying that the ME listed other “significant” factors that contributed to Scott’s death, “including physical restraint, recent methamphetamine use, asthma, emphysema and heart disease.”
A reporter asked Withrow what protocol is when someone says they can’t breathe and he responded, “Specifically in this circumstance when the suspect began saying he couldn’t breathe, they ended up rolling him over into a recovery position to allow him a better opportunity to breathe and they monitored his health throughout this incident.”
He said that the officers say on the video that Scott “continued to have a pulse and he continued to be breathing…they’re monitoring his health, is he still in good condition during the incident, and in this case at the time he was.”
Asked whether Scott was asthmatic, the commander said he didn’t have any information as to whether that was true. He also said that he had released all video that police had on the incident.
“When the officer straddled the suspect’s back, that’s an academy taught technique and you notice in the video he (an officer) starts out in his abdomen area.. when he’s straddling his back trying to gain control of him, as they gain more control over the suspect and he’s handcuffed, that officer is sliding farther down on the suspect’s body to his waist and his leg, not restricting any of his ability to breathe at that time,” said Withrow.
4. Scott’s Mother Called What Happened to Him ‘Inhumane’
Derrick Scott’s mother, Vickey Scott, told Tulsa World that she was very upset by the videos.
“I think that it was one of the most inhumane things that I have ever seen,” she said to the newspaper. “They did not do anything for him. They treated him like he was an animal.
“He was trying to get his breath. He was trying to breathe, and they ignored him the whole time, like he was nothing. They even treat animals better than they treated my son.”
5. The Officers Were Exonerated by the DA
According to Tulsa World, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater disagreed, telling the police chief, “In reviewing the actions of your officers I saw nothing inappropriate; nor was there any evidence of misconduct by your officers. They did exactly what they should have done under the circumstances and handled the call very well.”
Withrow also defended the officers.
“One of the other officers places her knee across the subject’s shoulder blades,” he said. “That’s taught in the academy. It provides a reasonable amount of control for the officers while not restricting air flow and offering the least likelihood of injury in a suspect; you have to maintain a certain amount of control and you want to do it with the least likelihood of injuring the suspect.”
He said the department is reviewing notification procedures for next of kin but added that a “family member was notified.” The video was “available last year…I believe it was offered to some of the family. I don’t know if it’s all of the family.”
As to the “I don’t care” comment, he said, “It’s not uncommon for people when you’re struggling with them to say I cant breathe. You hear that frequently. It makes you wonder are they really having difficulty breathing or are they just trying to get away…During the heat of a conflict like that, certainly that might be something an officer says. Understand the officers are fighting with someone at that point.”
Asked if an officer hit Scott in the chest with a baton, Withrow stated, “I don’t know if he was striking or using a pressure point trying to get a response.”
He said that “a complete investigation was done by the police department, the DA’s office and the medical examiner’s office, yes does it come into the spotlight given current events.”