When 40-year-old Rodney Brown told police officers in Cleveland he could not breathe after being Tased multiple times during a struggle in 2010, one of them responded: “So? Who gives a [expletive]?”
One of the police officers radioed for paramedics but later said he did so only because it was a required procedure when someone had been Tased; he did not convey that Mr. Brown had claimed he could not breathe.
A lawyer for the city in that case told a panel of judges that the officers did not have the medical expertise to know when someone was in a medical crisis or simply exhausted from a vigorous fight, according to an audio recording.
As the Times notes in its coverage today: "Many of the cases suggest a widespread belief that persists in departments across the country that a person being detained who says 'I can’t breathe' is lying or exaggerating, even if multiple officers are using pressure to restrain the person. Police officers, who for generations have been taught that a person who can talk can also breathe, regularly cited that bit of conventional wisdom to dismiss complaints of arrestees who were dying in front of them, records and interviews show."
The 2010 death of Rodney Brown sparked little outrage compared to the 2014 death of Eric Garner in New York City. The Plain Dealer ran a great front page in December, revealing a moment that foreshadowed much of 2014's debate over police use of excessive force. Amid a violent altercation and after Brown had been arrested, he told an officer that he could not breathe. The officer replied: "So? Who gives a fuck?" Brown died shortly thereafter. Garner's story was similar — particularly the "I can't breathe" quote — though the national climate is much more electrified these days.
In short: On Dec. 31, 2010, Brown was pulled over for a traffic stop. Police assert that his headlights were off; Brown's family claims otherwise. Suspecting alcohol consumption, officers ordered Brown out of the car. As they patted him down, the lawsuit contends, [Officer] Chapman elbowed Brown in the back of his head, prompting Brown to run across the street and face the officers. Chapman tased Brown, though he said that had little effect on the man. The officers pretty much deny all of that, writing that Brown resisted the pat-down and refused to comply with orders before being tased.
Brown ran, and the officers chased him down East 114th Street. When they caught up to him, tasings continued to no effect. A scuffle ensued, ending with Chapman sticking his gun into Brown's back before another officer subdued Brown. In all, eight officers ended up at the scene to control Brown. A crowd began gathering. Brown was arrested, and when he was stood up by Chapman he told the officer that he couldn't breathe.
Brown died about an hour-and-a-half after first being pulled over.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at email@example.com.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.