A 60-year-old Black man was hospitalized for three weeks following an arrest in Los Angeles last year when an officer punched him in the chest, leaving him with a collapsed lung.
On December 19, 2022, two plainclothes LAPD officers with the Newton Area Narcotics Enforcement Detail were on 50th Street and Central Avenue to take now-61-year-old Earl Roots into custody to resolve a felony sales warrant against him.
Authorities identified the arresting officers as Officer Brian Kolke and Officer Michael Klee.
Newly-released surveillance video shows Kolke and Klee approaching Roots and attempting to take him into custody. They did have to wrestle Roots to the ground to handcuff him after struggling to detain him. However, by the time Roots was firmly on the ground and incapacitated, Kolke punched Roots in the chest, leaving him struggling and gasping for breath.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Roots told Streetsblog LA. “I thought I was gonna die.”
Police issued a news release saying that Roots “began to resist” during the arrest so “use of force” was warranted. Footage, however, shows Roots merely lying on the ground with Kolke straddled over his body before the officer lands a blow to Roots’ chest.
“The dude hit me right up in here,” Roots said. “I just went into shock.”
Both officers work to lift Roots up off the ground, but as they attempt to walk him over to their squad car, he’s seen hunching over in pain and wheezing. His legs gave in and he fell to the ground.
“I had my chest up,” Roots explained. “I had never been through anything like that. It was horrible.”
Even after complaining of pain from the punch, both officers called an ambulance but made no efforts to try to provide immediate medical aid at the scene even though LAPD policy states officers must “promptly provide basic and emergency medical assistance.”
It took seven minutes for the ambulance to arrive and it wasn’t until he got to the hospital that doctors discovered his left lung had collapsed. He ended up spending three weeks hospitalized in order to recover.
Now Roots has a quarter-sized scar where doctors inserted a chest tube to treat his lung.
Police Chief Michael Moore initially reported that Roots was transported to the hospital because of a “complaint of having asthma.” However, he also stated that “the Force Investigations Division does believe that the suspect likely incurred the [collapsed lung] during the use of force.”
Two weeks later, police changed their story. In a briefing video, police stated that “immediately following the use of force, Roots complained of pain related to a pre-existing medical condition.” The collapsed lung was only discovered when he “was treated for his pre-existing medical condition.”
Roots does actually suffer from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) but asserted that the sharp pain he felt and inability to breathe during his arrest was due to the lung collapse after Kolke’s jab to his chest.
The 61-year-old man also said he’s still suffering from numbness from the surgery.
“My left side is still numb,” he said.
Roots expressed confusion over the escalation, especially over a small-time narcotics warrant. He also believes the warrant was a result of a missed court date and that he was sent a summons to an address where he no longer lives.
“I don’t have a history of violence on my record. … It’s mostly drugs.”
He has to serve two years’ probation to resolve his case. Neither Officer Kolke nor Officer Klee has been penalized for the incident.
Because Kolke and Klee were in plainclothes, there was no body camera footage. However, Los Angeles Police posted the surveillance video to their YouTube channel.
WATCH THE FULL SURVEILLANCE VIDEO AND POLICE STATEMENT BELOW: