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‘If you can talk, you can breathe’: Arkansas Police Release Arrest Video of Suspect Who Died in Custody

The Conway, Ark. Police Department on Wednesday released video showing the February arrest of a suspect who went on to die in police custody.

The video, comprised of police body cam and store security camera footage, depicts officers responding to a shoplifting call concerning two suspects who had removed a small drone from its packaging at a grocery store.

After police arrived on the scene, one of the suspects, Lionel Morris, 39, attempted to flee. Officers quickly caught up with Morris and tackled him. He struggled and violently resisted arrest. The footage shows Morris putting one of the officers in a chokehold before several others catch up. The officers spend nearly six minutes placing Morris under arrest. Officers used a Taser to subdue Morris and claimed the suspect had reached for a knife that was clipped to his pocket.

One officer said that while trying to get Morris to the ground, he “push[ed] his head down” — which resulted in “his head inadvertently hit a shelf causing a minor laceration.” That’s according to a police report cited by local television station THV11. The report further clarified that the same officer also said he tased a struggling Morris in the back while he was on the ground in an attempt to gain control of his arms to arrest him.

In the process of the arrest – after police had Morris on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back – one of the officers can be seen kneeling on the Morris’s back. Morris can repeatedly be heard screaming, “I can’t breathe.”

“If you can talk, you can breathe. Chill out,” replied the officer who was on top of Morris, adding, “we got an ambulance.”

At one point in the video at least three officers simultaneously have a foot on Morris while he’s on the ground.

Medical personnel arrived minutes later and said Morris was “pulseless and unresponsive.” He was taken to the hospital via ambulance where he was pronounced dead.

According to KATV, the medical examiner determined the cause of death to be methamphetamine intoxication with exertion, struggle, restraint, and conducted electrical weapon deployment. “Morris tested positive for methamphetamine, cannabinoids, which is a compound found in marijuana, opiates, morphine and amphetamines,” the report stated.

“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 in the video.

The officers involved in the arrest were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews.

[image via Conway Police Department/YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.