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Lawyer: Jones was trying to surrender

Attorney says prone position possibly caused heart attack

Lawson, right, speaks at a news conference as Nathaniel Jones' grandmother, background, listens.
Lawson, right, speaks at a news conference as Nathaniel Jones' grandmother, background, listens.

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CNN's Ed Lavandera reports on a community meeting held to discuss Nathaniel Jones' death after a fight with police.
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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 Jones 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 attorney for Nathaniel Jones' family said he believes the man would have died whether or not he had drugs in his system because of the prone position in which police placed him.

Jones' death after a violent struggle with police that was captured on videotape has sparked racial tensions in the Ohio city.

"I think with the enlarged heart and the ability not to breathe ... the pressure that's put on him at 350 pounds when he was laid down on his stomach, I think the lack of oxygen still would have probably generated a heart attack," attorney Kenneth Lawson told CNN's Paula Zahn on Wednesday night.

Lawson also said he partly blamed the police officers and paramedics for Jones' death because he believes Jones was trying to surrender when police made him lie down.

"I'm not saying that the officers did not have a right to engage in self-defense, I wouldn't say that at all," Lawson said.

"I think, though, after you see Mr. Jones go down and then come up on his knees on the tape, you will see ... his hands are open, his palms are open, they're not clenched in a fist in a fighting mode, he is trying to get into a surrender position."

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.

Angry citizens attended a community meeting Wednesday night to discuss Jones' death. City officials including Mayor Charlie Luken and Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. attended.

Hamilton County's coroner said Wednesday that Jones' death will be ruled a homicide, as the violent struggle between Jones and the officers was the primary cause of his death.

Dr. Carl Parrott noted that Jones, who weighed 350 pounds, was obese, had an enlarged heart, and "intoxicating levels" of PCP, methanol and cocaine in his blood. There were superficial bruises consistent with nightstick injuries.

"There were superficial so-called tramp track bruises consistent with night-stick injury, confined to the lower part of the decedent's body, with no evidence of transmission of force or injury to deeper organs."

Despite Jones' potentially lethal combination of health problems, Parrott said, the event precipitating his death was the stress from the struggle, which he said caused cardiac dysrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat, which was the ultimate cause of death.

With a person who has such problems, "such a reaction can be, and frequently is, lethal," he said. "Accordingly, his death must be regarded as a direct and immediate consequence, in part, of the struggle" aggravated by "his obesity, heart disease and drug intoxication."

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

Parrott said Jones' death will be ruled a homicide but stressed that doesn't imply inappropriate behavior on the part of police doing their job.

"Whether anything could have been done in these circumstances is something I can't address. The success rate with resuscitation in these circumstances, as far as I understand it, is not very high."

Jones, 41, died at a hospital shortly after police hit him with metal nightsticks to subdue him early Sunday morning. Police videotapes show officers pulled out their nightsticks after Jones lunged at one of them, and he continued to fight off policemen as they tried to get him to lie down.

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

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

African-American community leaders also are calling for a full investigation into the incident and have demanded that the police chief resign.

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

Police also are investigating and have placed the six officers involved on administrative leave, as is standard in cases where a suspect

has died in police custody. The Citizen Complaint Authority, created after the April 2001 riots, also is looking into the matter.

Cincinnati's police chief Tuesday said a police cruiser video that recorded the incident indicates the officers acted properly. That video showed officers fighting with Jones and clubbing him repeatedly.

Another video, shot from inside and outside the White Castle restaurant, showed Jones dancing and marching around the restaurant and in the parking lot before police arrived on the scene.

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