The family of an Arizona man who died in a Maricopa County jail filed a federal lawsuit alleging law enforcement officers used excessive force, leading to the death of Akeem Terrell, 31.
“Two years ago, my brother was killed by the hands of the Phoenix Police Department. We have now confirmed video footage of the incident,” Jaquitta Terrell, Akeem’s sister, said in a Facebook post.
The incident happened on January 1, 2021, as Terrell was bringing in the new year. Terrell had a history of mental illness, according to the lawsuit, and that night he began “behaving bizarrely” at a party at an apartment in Phoenix.
Jesse Showalter, an attorney representing the family, said a partygoer called the police because of Terrell’s behavior. Witnesses claimed he “expressed paranoid thoughts and made statements that didn’t make sense.”
The lawsuit claims Phoenix police “recognized he was mentally ill or mentally disturbed.” Terrell suffered from schizophrenic disorder, which occurs when people interpret reality abnormally, according to Mayo Clinic.
The officers then asked Terrell to leave the party, and after he refused, they arrested him.
Terrell, described as 6 feet 2 and 433 pounds, was uncooperative during the arrest but officers got him into an SUV and took him to the Maricopa County Jail.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing the family. He suggested law enforcement officers acted with indifference towards Terrell.
“Akeem Terrell had a history of mental illness, and instead of compassion and treatment, officers showed him indifference and negligence,” Crump said in a statement.
Surveillance and body camera video released by Maricopa County in December shows Terrell’s final moments.
Upon arrival at the jail, Terrell asks officers, “Am I going to the mental hospital?” An officer replied, “Maybe.” Terrell then repeats, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Four Phoenix police officers each held one of Terrell’s limbs to carry him into the jail for booking and processing. Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies greeted them as Terrell continued to yell and make incoherent comments regarding his whereabouts.
Deputies then force a combative Terrell into an isolation cell. At least five deputies position themselves on top of a prone Terrell, who is lying on his stomach as his handcuffs are being adjusted behind his back.
Terrell’s head was pressed against the concrete wall and floor during the struggle.
“What I do, why are my hands so tight?” Terrell continued to yell amid intermittent utterances of other people’s names.
After several minutes, Terrell was subdued, and deputies filed out of the jail cell.
“When you restrain someone with handcuffs, and they are face down, it interferes with their body’s ability to breathe,” Showalter told AZ Central.
The lawsuit claims Terrell was in “medical distress, and in obvious need of immediate medical care.” It goes on to say, “placing handcuffed people in a prone position creates an immediate risk of death or serious bodily injury…This position is known to cause positional asphyxia.”
Asphyxia occurs when the body doesn’t get enough oxygen, resulting in a person passing out and eventually death if not reversed.
Surveillance video shows Terrell lying motionless for six minutes, face down on the concrete. Eventually, a deputy checks on Terrell and calls for assistance.
Surveillance captures deputies performing CPR and using an automatic external defibrillator to no avail. Roughly 40 minutes after being placed in the isolation cell, paramedics transport Terrell to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Terrell’s death is linked to heart failure. His autopsy listed his cause of death as “cardiac dysrhythmia in setting of arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, extreme morbid obesity, acute/chronic psychosis, physical exertion and prone physical restraint with torso compression.”
The autopsy says Terrell’s injury stems from “law enforcement restraint in setting of acute psychosis and significant natural disease.” His manner of death is deemed “undetermined.”
“The murder happened when they left him face down. If they had gotten him medical attention he could have lived,” Showalter said.
Crump compared Terrell’s death to George Floyd’s.
“Just like George Floyd, Akeem was put in a prone position, face down, which has been proven to be dangerous and all-too-often deadly,” Crump said.
A spokesperson for Maricopa County told Atlanta Black Star, “we do not comment on pending litigation.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office also declined to comment citing pending litigation.
The city of Phoenix did not immediately return our requests for comment regarding allegations within the lawsuit.
The excessive force lawsuit is for an unspecified dollar amount. It claims Terrell’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and officers and deputies involved lacked adequate training.
Terrell’s sister also asserts better training could have prevented her brother’s death.
“Training needs to be enforced for law enforcement officials and how they handle people with mental issues. My brother did not deserve this,” Jaquitta Terrell said.
“These officers must answer for their negligence and excessive force that obviously contributed to Terrell losing his life,” Crump said.
Diamond Warren, the mother of Terrell’s daughter, told AZ Central, “Terrell is the kind of person that made everybody laugh.”
“It shouldn’t have been this way,” Warren added.