Sgt. James Brown was an African-American active-duty soldier who served and survived two tours of duty in Iraq. In 2012, Brown died worryingly in custody after he checked himself into the El Paso, Texas, county jail for a two-day sentence for driving under the influence.
Brown’s death would be ruled as natural due to a crisis of an undiagnosed sickle cell blood disorder only for a forensic pathologist hired by the El Paso County to disagree, concluding that his death was a homicide.
The pathologist who was hired by the County as part of its defense in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Brown’s family also cited the restraints methods that officials at the jail used in murdering Brown – an observation confirmed by the disturbing video of the 26-year-old’s dying moments.
The video shows guards swarming on top of him as he repeatedly says he can’t breathe and appears not to resist. By the end of the video, he is shown naked, not blinking or responding, his breathing shallow. According to the Associated Press, Brown told jailers at least 14 times that he could not breathe “while being restrained and choking on his blood.”
It was reported by KFOX then that Brown called his mother after a night behind bars to pay his fine so he wouldn’t have to serve any more time in jail. The fine was paid before morning. But by then, Brown was dead.
“Nobody deserves to go to jail and die,” Brown’s mother, Dinetta Scott, was quoted as saying.
According to reports, five detention officers entered Brown’s cell and within minutes of being pinned by them, he began begging: “Help me. Help me…. I can’t breathe.”
Brown, before that, was said to have become belligerent, hurt himself, and refused to take commands. After being pinned by the officers, he was taken to the jail’s infirmary. Sedated, Brown could be seen in the video reportedly taken by one of the officers getting weaker and continuously asking for water while asking for a spit mask to be removed because he was suffocating.
He died at the hospital after he had become unresponsive and the El Paso County medical examiner ruled that he died from a sickle cell crisis.
“Mr. Brown’s death was an unfortunate tragedy… after a thorough investigation, it was determined that his death was caused by a pre-existing medical condition,” The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to CNN.
The county settled the Brown family’s lawsuit for nearly a half-million dollars.