A Black Phoenix teen died in police custody after enduring sweltering heat while naked, bloodied and in need of medical help.
On June 10, 2022, Caleb Blair, 19, found himself wandering around at a gas station, acting strangely.
Blair, who was homeless, was trying to escape the scorching heat outside. He tried to go inside the Circle K gas station, but the store clerk told him he could not remain inside as it was against company policy.
Once back outside, Blair was captured on surveillance “on the asphalt, rolling around, distressed and struggling to breathe,” according to reports.
It’s unclear when Blair first arrived at the gas station seeking air conditioning, but his erratic behavior drew the attention of gas station patrons, which eventually led to 911 calls pouring in around 2:45 p.m., according to police.
“He didn’t need handcuffs, he needed help. But this is the best a Black man can hope for people don’t see us,” Blair’s father, Frank Blair, told The Guardian.
The 911 callers described Blair’s behavior to dispatchers. “There’s this guy, like he’s on something outside, and he’s banging his head against my car that’s parked,” a woman told the dispatcher.
“I’m not sure what’s going on, I can see that his foot is cut… He’s been doubled over, hitting his head on the ground,” another caller said to the dispatcher.
Temperatures reached 112 degrees on the day of the incident, according to the National Weather Service.
It’s unclear the exact amount of time Blair was observed in distress by gas station patrons and employees before police were called, but The Guardian estimated it was more than an hour before emergency responders tended to him.
At 2:56 p.m., Phoenix police arrived at the gas station to find a naked Blair with his pants down to his ankles as he was seen curled in a fetal position on the hot pavement.
The first arriving officer is seen on bodycam video giving Blair verbal commands to “get down on the ground.”
The officer acknowledged Blair’s disposition calling him “pretty altered.” He’s also heard saying there was “no sign of a weapon.”
Blair, still naked, appeared unstable on the bodycam video. The 19-year-old was suspected of being under the influence as he stood up on his two feet but in a hunched-over position. Police approached Blair and handcuffed him with his hands behind his back.
After Blair was handcuffed, he was dragged several feet from the middle of the gas station parking lot to a shaded tree with his pants still around his ankles. Blair was then placed on the curb that had thorny vegetation on it.
The officers asked Blair his name, but he did not respond. Paramedics were then called after officers could not find Blair’s pulse. At 3:07 p.m. Blair’s handcuffs were removed so paramedics could continue rendering aid. Bodycam video shows Blair receiving CPR before being taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The medical examiner deemed Blair’s cause of death was from “drug intoxication, with extreme heat and pneumonia.”
The autopsy report indicates Blair had fentanyl, norfentanyl, 4-ANPP, methamphetamine, amphetamine, caffeine, and naloxone in his system at the time of death.
The medical examiner also cited “environmental heat exposure and pneumonia” as contributing factors to Blair’s death.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses excessive amounts of water and salt by sweating. The elderly, people with high blood pressure and those working in hot environments are most at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Atlanta Black Star reached out to the Phoenix Police Department for comment on Blair’s case, the agency confirmed its involvement with Blair’s case.
Caleb was one of 12 children in his family. Caleb’s father, Frank Blair, admitted to the Phoenix New Times his son was homeless and had a drug problem. He said he would go and find his son on the streets to give him food and water and encourage him to go to drug rehab.
Caleb Blair’s sister also told the Guardian her brother first tried drugs at age 11 or 12 when he would “carve out an apple to smoke weed.”
“When he was not in his right mind on drugs, he could not live with us,” Frank Blair said.
Despite the drug problem Caleb was dealing with, Blair still lamented the way his son died. He told the Guardian, “My son took his last breath naked in handcuffs next to a dumpster.”
“He was clearly in medical distress,” Blair added.