Man Sitting Alone in Car Stormed by Police; Dies in Custody
Following a confrontation with several police officers, 41-year-old Raymond Johnson died in custody last week.
The problem started around 6 p.m. Friday in the drive-thru exit at a Burger King in Moreno Valley, California. According to a restaurant employee (who said she wished to remain anonymous for fear of police retaliation), Johnson sat immobile in his car outside the window after purchasing a milkshake.
The employee described his eyes as "glassy, like he was under the influence or mentally ill" and his overall appearance as nervous-looking: "Not that he was going to do anything to us, but that he knew he was supposed to move but his body and mind weren't working right."
After a few moments of flailing and exasperatedly trying to get the vehicle into gear, several Burger King employees helped Johnson push his car into the parking lot. Johnson then stepped outside and sat silently on a curb resting his head. Shortly after he climbed back into his car, police arrived.
KABC-TV Los Angeles reports:
Police say they were called to the scene for a man who appeared to be in an agitated state…According to investigators he refused to get out of his vehicle.
This is where cell phone video footage begins. Shot from a distance by a witness, it starts with an officer reaching into Johnson's car and striking him with what looks like a baton. Moments later, 5 to 6 officers surround the vehicle. One officer climbs on the hood and repeatedly kicks into the passenger seat while a witness asks "Are they stomping on his head?"
Authorities say Johnson stopped breathing after he was taken into custody and was pronounced dead an hour later. A coroner's report released last night found that Johnson suffered from an oversized heart, and that while he had sustained abrasions from the struggle, none of the injuries were life-threatening.
Johnson's widow, Lawanda, expressed her frustration and confusion:
My biggest question is what happened? What led up to that, what makes you do that? He's one person; there's many of you…I just need answers.
On Tuesday, October 15, a local NAACP chapter pressed the Riverside County sheriff's department for more information on the incident, including whether any of the deputies had been placed on leave. Chief Deputy Knudson responded with a statement outlining the incident, which stated that the officers used pepper spray, a Taser, a baton, and kicking in an attempt to subdue him.
A report also revealed that Johnson was not armed and none of the officers received serious injuries. One expert in police procedures — a retired senior supervisor with the LAPD — said the officers should have evaluated Johnson to see if he needed medical attention before resorting to force.
Johnson, who worked as a plumber, had had run-ins with police and served time for drugs, but never for violent crimes. He is survived by his wife, mother, four children, and a grandson.
Watch the video below: