A 39-year-old black man, Lionel Morris in February met his untimely death while in police custody. Morris’ disturbing death came after shortly after being arrested at a Harps grocery store in Conway on Feb. 4.
Conway police officers were called in by store clerks to report a case of lifting by a couple after the shoppers had allegedly taken a drone out of its packaging while in the store.
Bodycam footage released on Wednesday showed officers approaching Morris and Brandi Arnold, who police say is Morris’ girlfriend. Arnold allowed officers to handcuff her and taken outside to a police vehicle.
But Morris wouldn’t budge and as a result, the officers chased him through the store to arrest him. He was eventually arrested and pinned to the floor as they tried to handcuff him. Morris was “actively refusing arrest” and “being combative” with officers, Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews said in a letter.
Morris reportedly hit his head on a shelf while running. Bleeding from his forehead officers tased him several times, claiming they saw him reached for a knife from his pocket. He can be heard shouting “help me please” and “my heart” as the officers used their body weight to subdue him.
One of the officers told Morris “I’ll break your f******* wrist” while he was being handcuffed. At some point three officers stood on his leg, buttocks and back simultaneously, KATV reported.
Throughout the arrest, Morris continuously yelled, “I can’t breathe”, begging for an ambulance to be called but one of the officers replied: “If you can talk, you can breathe.”
According to the outlet by the time the Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services (MEMS) arrived, Morris was unresponsive and pulseless at the scene. He was pronounced dead when the ambulance arrived at the hospital.
Morris’ death, according to the medical examiner, was caused by a combination of methamphetamine intoxication with exertion, struggle, restraint, and conducted electrical weapon deployment.
“The level of drugs Mr. Morris had in his system and the strain he exerted while struggling with police ultimately led to his death,” Conway Police Chief William Tapley said.
Morris was serving five years of probation for felony drug charges at the time of the Feb. 4 arrest, according to Pulaski County court records.
Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said he found some of the actions of the officers in the footage “concerning,” calling for some of the officers who made the arrest to be put on paid leave during an internal investigation.
Castleberry also conveyed a committee of Black leaders to review the policies and training of the city’s police department. “There are some behaviors that must change,” Castleberry said. “There is no place for racism in the city of Conway…It’s time to have hard conversations.”
Meanwhile, the officers have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.