Video: Man dies in police custody after cops turn ambulance away

SARASOTA – The central question emerging from the death of a 33-year-old Sarasota man who experienced “medical distress” during his arrest by Sarasota Police late Wednesday seems to be why officers waved off an ambulance.  During his arrest, John Kaafi reportedly resisted arrest and cited various medical problems, including asthma. At one point, Sarasota Police summoned Sarasota County Emergency Medical Services but then canceled. Kaafi died Friday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

During a press conference to address the case, Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino would not say why her officers called off EMS. “I can’t discuss anything about the case,” DiPino said Friday, citing a death investigation by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. It will likely be weeks before there are specific answers to some of the questions surrounding Kaafi’s death and the conduct of the officers who interacted with him.

But Roy Bedard, a nationally known police practices consultant in Tampa, said based on a Herald-Tribune account of what transpired, the officers should not have canceled EMS. “They should have kept the ambulance coming. It doesn’t cost anything to bring in an ambulance — nothing but time,” Bedard said. “Law enforcement is not trained or equipped to deal with a medical crisis like this. “There is some possibility that the officers thought they were being bluffed,” he said. “But even then, my training would suggest that the officers allow the ambulance personnel to tell them he’s bluffing.”

Michael Barfield, vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, had a similar assessment, saying that the decision to cancel the EMS call was “not consistent with best police practices.”“They note he was acting strangely and had difficulty breathing. For the officer to make a medical assessment is wrong, not just for the protection of the person in their care and custody, but for the protection of the agency, in case something occurs later on,” Barfield said.“Now we’re faced with the question of, if EMS had responded, would he still be alive? We’ll never know the answer to that question.”

The three Sarasota police officers who interacted with Kaafi during the arrest have been placed on administrative leave during the sheriff’s office investigation.Sarasota Police officials also are conducting an internal affairs investigation of Kaafi’s arrest, during which he briefly escaped SPD custody and was Tased twice.

Earlier Friday, Sheriff Tom Knight had expressed his displeasure at the amount of information that Sarasota Police had released about the incident. “The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a death investigation,” Knight said. “I’m disappointed that the police department chose to put extensive information out before my detectives have had the opportunity to confirm the facts of this case, to include locating and speaking with all witnesses, and locate and process all evidence.“We will do so in a timely manner, but must await the Medical Examiner’s determination including toxicology reports, which can take several weeks,” Knight said in a written statement.

While not specifically addressing Knight’s comments at her news conference, DiPino said her agency was being “transparent” when it released Kaafi’s arrest report, known as a probable cause affidavit or PCA. “The PCA is a public record. That is why we felt comfortable releasing it,” she said. “We really believe in getting ahead of the story, and we released the information we legally knew we could.”

DiPino offered condolences to Kaafi’s family and friends, saying that her agency would cooperate with the Sheriff’s Office death investigation. The police chief also gave some hint of what investigators may find: “I believe the individual was under the influence of drugs, but we do have to wait for toxicology.”

Police Report

In the police report, obtained by CopsCaughtOnTape, the arresting officer states that “I observed the defendant chewing something, licking his lips and extremely nervous”.  The officer goes on to state that “he was being detained due to his demeanor …” The arresting officer admitted that the ‘defendant’ suffered from Asthma, and that another officer contacted dispatch and requested EMS to the location.

I pointed out those statements to try and answer a question – why would an officer call for and then cancel EMS services? Especially for a suspect that could have swallowed drugs, was acting in an erratic manner, and who has asthma?

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the police is already in ‘cover-up’ mode, as the arresting officer took the time to state in the report “I did not observed (sic) the defendant to have any visible medical complications”, and after issuing the driver a ticket, “I began to transport the defendant to the Sarasota County Jail”.

Obviously this officer isn’t a licensed medical doctor, because Kaafi died within a few minutes after his medical evaluation.

You can read the full police report here: Sarasota Police Report

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