25 Jun Jon Cartu Publishes: Video exclusive: Navy vet who died 8 days after Alameda arr…
Records and video released exclusively to The Chronicle show that a man who died days after being arrested by Alameda police lost consciousness and stopped breathing while at least one officer was instructed to use their body weight to pin the handcuffed Navy veteran while repeatedly tasing him.
The city of Alameda agreed in March to pay $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Shelby Gattenby’s mother, who said police violated her 40-year-old son’s civil rights on Dec. 5, 2018, when they deployed their stun guns five times and restrained him with the weight of their bodies as he lay on his stomach.
Gattenby died in a hospital on Dec. 13, 2018, eight days after he went into cardiac arrest while being transported to the hospital. The officers involved in the incident were cleared of wrongdoing by the Alameda County district attorney’s office on May 31, 2019.
The Chronicle obtained body camera footage of Gattenby’s arrest through a public records request, and many of the videos are graphic in nature. A total of 14 officers were involved in the incident, and records released include the district attorney’s findings, audio from interviews with two officers and 911 calls.
Ben Nisenbaum, an attorney for Gattenby’s mother, said his biggest concern when reviewing body camera footage was when at least one officer was instructed to use their weight to restrain Gattenby.
“That is the biggest no-no,” Nisenbaum said of the command given to officers. “In order to breathe, you have to also inhale. What happens in these cases, the cops are on people’s backs, they compress the chest, the person can’t inhale.”
Nisenbaum said the officers’ handling of the episode was reminiscent of the killing of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd’s death has sparked global protests on police brutality and systemic racism.
The incident occurred at about 2:30 a.m. when patrol officers responded to a “suspicious circumstance” call on the 2300 block of Buena Vista Avenue. Police had received multiple calls from a man who claimed to hear people following him. Gattenby was later confirmed to be the 911 caller, according to police interviews.
Gattenby joined the U.S. Navy after attending a few years of college. He was deployed to Iraq, according to his obituary.
Police said Gattenby became uncooperative during the investigation and ran away from the officers “for unknown reasons.” He made his way into a patrol vehicle and tried to remove a locked patrol rifle from its mount, police said.
Videos reviewed by The Chronicle start at the moment when officers wrestle Gattenby out of the patrol car.
Body camera footage shows Gattenby sitting in the driver’s seat of the patrol car. Two officers yell at him before one deploys a stun gun. Another officer runs up and yells for Gattenby to “get out of the car right now.”
That officer grabs Gattenby, pulls him out of the vehicle and tells him, “Get on your face right now.” Gattenby wails before falling face down on the pavement.
An officer yells for Gattenby to put his hands behind his back, and another officer shouts for him to stop resisting. Gattenby can be heard wailing as officers grab his arms and attempt to handcuff them while deploying the stun gun.
About 3 minutes after being pulled out of the vehicle, officers handcuff Gattenby. He can be heard screaming and saying “please have mercy,” “please stop” and “no.” Officers order him multiple times to “stop kicking” and to “stay down on the ground and relax.”
The officers work for several minutes to secure Gattenby’s legs.
An officer then asks, “Can you put your body weight and lay on top of him?” Officers discuss putting Gattenby in a restraining wrap, but do not put him in the device.
Roughly 6 minutes after he was pulled from the vehicle, Gattenby was unresponsive.
“Sir, can you hear me?” the commanding officer says in the video. Gattenby doesn’t respond, and the same officer says, “Turn him to the side real quick to reassess him. Check for a pulse.”
Another officer responds, “I don’t feel a pulse.”
Officers turn Gattenby onto his back and his hands are cuffed again in front of his body. Later in the video, an officer confirms that Gattenby was breathing. Two officers suffered minor injuries during the incident.
Officer Jordan Halog, who held Gattenby down, told the district attorney and police investigators in an interview that several officers were checking for a “pulse in different areas,” according to an interview transcript.
“One of them said that they found like what they believed to be a faint pulse,” Halog said.
Alameda police Officer Cameron Miele said in an interview with prosecutors that he performed CPR on Gattenby during the ambulance ride to the hospital when paramedics said they couldn’t find a pulse.
Hospital staff placed Gattenby on a respirator, according to the district attorney’s report. He was determined to be brain-dead after several days and was taken off life support by his family.
A Police Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the case.
The prosecutors’ report on the incident states that Gattenby had “minor external injuries” to his head, torso and limbs. His ribs were fractured and he had “subcutaneous tissue hemorrhage to his back.” The report says his cause of death was complications from methamphetamine poisoning.
“Our position is they were wrong,” Nisenbaum said. “They should have known better. And they should have done better, more importantly.”