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Coroner rules Cincinnati death a homicide

A videotape shows police officers struggling with Nathaniel Jones.
A videotape shows police officers struggling with Nathaniel Jones.

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Dr. Carl Parrott, coroner, gives his report on the death of Nathaniel Jones.
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Ken Lawson, attorney for Nathaniel Jones' family, says the victim did not have a record.
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New video shows a man dancing and marching around a restaurant shortly before he clashed with police and later died.
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Nathaniel Jones
Cincinnati (Ohio)

CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- The Hamilton County coroner Wednesday said the violent struggle over the weekend between 350-pound Nathaniel Jones and Cincinnati police officers was the immediate cause of the man's death and said his death will be ruled a homicide.

Dr. Carl Parrott noted that Jones was obese, had an enlarged heart, and had ingested PCP and cocaine hours before the incident with police. Parrott said superficial bruises consistent with nightstick injuries were on his body.

Parrott said Jones' death being ruled a homicide doesn't imply hostile or malign behavior. The coroner's office said Tuesday that Jones had bruises on his legs but no sign of injuries to his internal organs.

He said Jones' death "must be regarded as a direct and immediate consequence, in part, of the struggle, plus his obesity, heart disease, and drug intoxication." He said Jones had several lethal health problems when the confrontation happened. The struggle caused cardiac dysrhythmia, which was the ultimate physical cause of death, but he stressed the event precipitating his death was the struggle.

He added, "Absent the struggle, however, Mr. Jones would not have died at that precise moment of time."

New video released Tuesday showed Jones dancing and marching around the White Castle restaurant and in the parking lot before officers arrived on the scene.

Later, he fell down and rolled down a hill. Restaurant employees called the fire department at 5:45 a.m. to report his bizarre behavior.

The tape also shows another view of the altercation with police, and Jones is seen lunging at one officer, as he also is shown on the squad car videotape.

Jones died at a hospital shortly after police beat him with metal nightsticks to subdue him.

Police later found about a third of a gram of powdered cocaine and two cigarettes dipped in PCP, or "angel dust," in Jones' car, the coroner's office said Tuesday.

"Each of these drugs is a central nervous system stimulant and has been associated in some cases with bizarre and violently aggressive behavior," the statement said.

The case has stirred fears in metropolitan Cincinnati, where the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in 2001 sparked three nights of rioting. Five of the officers involved in the altercation with Jones were white and one was black.

Members of Jones' family Wednesday denounced the officers' actions and said they could have restrained themselves. They called for an independent investigation.

African-American leaders are calling for a full investigation into the incident, and have called on Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. to resign.

The police, the FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are gathering information on the incident.

Police have placed the six officers involved on administrative leave, as is standard in cases where a suspect dies in police custody. The Citizen Complaint Authority, created after the 2001 riots, also is looking into the incident.

Police chief defends officers

Tuesday, Chief Streicher said the police videotape of the incident indicates the officers acted properly.

"Officers came under attack. At one point, they're defending themselves. At another point, a transition is made to where they are trying to arrest a person for a felony act of violence. ... Certainly, the standard for use of force in the United States is that the officers can use force to defend themselves and/or to overcome resistance to arrest," Streicher said. (CNN Access: Cincinnati police chief)

"These things take a tremendous toll on the officers," Streicher said, noting the widespread media attention.

The video camera was rolling when police arrived at the scene, but there was a brief gap in the tape.

Streicher said the camera automatically shuts off when the police cruisers are parked. That's done to avoid the running down the car's battery.

The camera can be turned on by a remote control on an officer's belt, and that's what might have happened as the situation escalated.

"If so, I think it was a very wise decision on the part of the officers," he said.

Police recount incident

Police gave this account of the altercation:

When paramedics arrived, they found Jones and a woman, who was in some sort of medical distress. Jones then regained consciousness and began acting strangely.

At that point, following standard procedure, the fire officials called police.

A police videotape shows a squad car arriving at the restaurant at 5:58 a.m., at which point the recording device was switched off. (Account of video)

During the next few moments, which are not visible on tape, the two officers from the squad car approached Jones in the parking lot of the restaurant.

The tape resumes rolling at 6 a.m. An officer is heard saying to Jones, "You got to tell me what's going on."

Jones then says, "White boy, redneck," and the tape shows him lunging at the officer and attempting to put him in a headlock.

At that point, the two officers -- both of whom are white -- wrestle Jones to the ground and use their metal nightsticks, appearing to strike him around the shoulders and torso numerous times and yelling repeatedly, "Put your hands behind your back!"

Soon after, four more officers arrive, and an apparent reference to pepper spray is heard on the tape.

The view of Jones, who is being subdued on the pavement in front of the squad car, is obscured from the camera, which is mounted on the dashboard of the police car.

At this point, what sounds like "Help!" is heard coming repeatedly from the pile of men. It becomes progressively fainter with each utterance.

A few minutes later, one officer asks for paramedics.

"He's got a pulse; he's just not breathing," the man says of Jones.


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