Arkansas police have released officer bodycam footage of the arrest of Lionel Morris, 39, who died in police custody in February.
Officers responded to a call that a couple was shoplifting at the Harp’s store in Conway, Arkansas, on February 4, 2020. Two shoppers had allegedly taken a drone out of its packaging while in the store.
Bodycam footage released on Wednesday shows officers approaching Morris and his girlfriend Brandi Arnold. Arnold allowed officers to place her in handcuffs and escort her from the store, but Morris ran when officers attempted to arrest him.
Officers chased Morris through the store and pinned him to the ground as they attempted to put him in handcuffs. Morris was reportedly “actively refusing arrest” and “being combative” with officers. He was tased several times after officers say they saw him reach for a knife in his pocket, and suffered a head injury as an officer attempted to force his head against the floor. Another officer admitted to punching Morris as many as four times during the arrest.
“I’ll break your f—–g wrist,” an officer says at one point.
The officers used their body weight to subdue Morris: All at once, three officers each place a foot on his back, leg, and buttocks.
The footage shows Morris calling out for help, asking someone to call an ambulance, and repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe,” throughout the arrest.
At one point one officer can be heard responding, “If you can talk, you can breathe.”
By the time Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services arrived, Morris was unresponsive and had no pulse. He arrived at the hospital by ambulance, where he was pronounced dead.
According to the medical examiner, Morris died as a result of a combination of methamphetamine intoxication with exertion, struggle, and conducted electrical weapon deployment. Barb and stun gun sites were identified on his torso. Police say the struggle with Morris lasted for over six minutes, and that he was instructed to comply almost 40 times.
Conway Police Chief William Tapley said “the level of drugs Mr. Morris had in his system and the strain he exerted while struggling with police” caused his death. He does not believe the officers should face criminal charges.
Mayor Bart Castleberry of Conway said he found some of the officers’ actions in the video “concerning.” He also said that he assembled a committee of Black leaders in Conway to review the protocols and training practices of the city’s police department.
A local prosecutor found that the officers are not guilty of any criminal offenses. An ongoing internal investigation will determine if officers violated any department policies.