Police launch investigation into man's death after struggle with officers

Published: Sunday, May. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 29, 2013 - 8:33 am

The Sacramento Police Department has launched an investigation after a man died while being detained by officers Friday evening.

Authorities said the man resisted arrest and at one point overpowered one of two officers who were responding. At least five additional officers arrived at the scene and were finally able to subdue the suspect, a 42-year-old white male, according to police spokesman Doug Morse.

The name of the suspect has not been released, pending notification of his family.

The incident unfolded shortly before 6 p.m., when the man entered a Metro PCS store in the 8300 block of Folsom Boulevard. A store employee, fearing for her safety, called 911 after the man made "unintelligble statements," according to reports. Store owner Zahid Altaf said the employee told him the man was trying to rob the store.

"He (suspect) came in demanding something," Altaf told The Bee on Saturday.

The man exited the store just as two police officers – one male and one female – arrived on the scene. But the man immediately re-entered the store and barricaded the door, authorities said. "This was possibly a hostage situation," Morse said.

After officers forced open the door, the man became combative and resisted arrest, Morse said. The suspect then began fighting with officers, forcing them to call for backup, Morse said.

At one point, the suspect overpowered the male officer. The female officer repeatedly struck the suspect with a baton, but that did not have an effect on him, authorities said. "For several minutes, it was a struggle," Morse said.

The altercation quickly moved outside. In a written statement, the Police Department said that at least two citizens assisted by "kicking and striking" the suspect.

Witness Nedal Mashal, who owns a liquor store nearby, watched the scuffle unfold in the parking lot.

"It happened so fast. This is only something you see on TV or in a movie," Mashal told The Bee on Saturday at his store.

Three minutes after the fight began, backup officers were able to subdue the suspect. Mashal said the officers continued to "brutally beat" the man even after he was on the ground.

Cellphone video widely distributed by local TV stations showed a female police officer continuing to beat the man's legs while the man was lying on the ground. Another officer appeared to be sitting on top of the suspect, who police said was unarmed.

"Officers were doing everything they could to take this individual into custody," Morse said.

In the video, the man also appeared to have a bloody forehead.

"Once a situation becomes immediately violent, de-escalation techniques are of little use," said Michael Summers, a consultant for crisis intervention training and former Sacramento police officer. "Then, you're only concerned with the safety of officers and to take the suspect safely into custody."

Authorities have not disclosed a motive or whether the man was on drugs or mentally ill.

A few minutes after subduing the man, officers noticed he was unresponsive. The Sacramento Fire Department responded, and the man was transported to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The two officers who initially responded to the incident have been put on administrative leave, according to Morse. The Metro PCS store reopened for business Saturday. The female clerk was not injured, Morse said.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness viewed the cellphone footage and said Saturday that it's too early to tell what actually happened.

"Often times, things are not as they appear," he said. "What was she (the female officer) seeking to do? That's absolutely critical to answer the question of what's appropriate."

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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