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Police deny man who died in custody was alone for 48 minutes

May 24, 2021 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Officials in a Louisiana city who have been sued by the family of a Black man after he died in police custody deny allegations that the man spent 48 minutes in a patrol car unattended and without medical attention.

The allegation is contained in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year by family members of Tommie McGlothen Jr., who died in the custody of Shreveport police on April 5, 2020. Attorneys for the northwest Louisiana city, its police chief and four police officers responded to the allegations in a filing dated Friday.

The four officers named in the suit also have been charged with negligent homicide and malfeasance. They have pleaded not guilty and are set to be tried in a state criminal court later this year.

Lawyers representing the city and the police officers say there is evidence that officers requested medical assistance for McGlothen within a minute of placing him in the back of a patrol car and that emergency medical personnel arrived within 17 minutes.

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The lawyers also deny multiple other allegations in the lawsuit, including that officers were told McGlothen was suffering a mental health crisis when they first encountered him while answering a call from his family.

McGlothen had three encounters with police within a short timespan on the day he died. The lawsuit faults police for failing to take into account that he was showing clear signs of a mental condition known as excited delirium syndrome. He died in custody after the third encounter, which police said happened after he was accused of an assault and a home invasion.

“Any injuries suffered by Mr. McGlothen, including his death, are attributable to his own criminal conduct and/or negligent acts and omissions and to natural causes beyond the control” of the officers he encountered, the defense filing states.

The defense lawyers also acknowledge that police used a Taser and pepper spray on McGlothen, and that they struck him with a baton. But they deny that his death was caused by officers, who they say acted within the scope of their duties when they tried to subdue him.

The local coroner found that McGlothen died of natural causes. However, he also described McGlothen’s death as “possibly preventable,” noting that he didn’t get immediate medical attention.