- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A man who died after being restrained by New Jersey state troopers in 2008 may have suffocated, NJ Advance Media found in an investigation that challenges the official findings of the case and raises questions about how state authorities investigate deaths in police custody.

Legal experts tell the media company, which publishes The Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark (https://www.nj.com/garcia), that New Jersey’s system is plagued by conflicts of interest: Medical examiners are overseen by the state Attorney General’s Office, which also investigates death-in-custody cases and is responsible for the state police. It also represented the state in a wrongful death lawsuit in this case.

“When you have one agency that is supposed to investigate impartially, yet it’s also supposed to defend one side, you can see the problem,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies police issues. “If you have a glaring sort of conflict like that, the best you’re going to get is that people will be suspicious of the conclusion, and the worst you’re going to get is self-interested decision making.”

A state medical examiner found that Kenwin Garcia died of a syndrome known as excited delirium in which the body produces an overdose of adrenaline that leads to heart failure.

But four independent experts who reviewed the autopsy for NJ Advance Media during its five-month investigation said it looked to them like Garcia suffocated while he was being restrained.

One of the experts, Indiana University School of Medicine cardiologist Douglas Zipes, said there were problems with the state’s cause of death finding of excited delirium. “It’s an empty, big bag of diagnoses that doesn’t establish how someone actually died,” he said.

Police found Garcia, who was 25 and lived in his father’s house in Newark, walking along Interstate 287 in Hanover on July 15, 2008.

According to audio and video from the police interaction with the man, Garcia told an officer he was heading to the beach - though he was headed away from the shore. The officer, Victor Pereira, told him he would drive him to the next exit.

But he found that Garcia was wanted on some warrants for minor offenses in Newark - jumping a turnstile at a train station and shoplifting. He handcuffed Garcia and put him in his squad car.

Garcia, according to the recordings, asked repeatedly if he could roll down a window, saying he was having trouble breathing. Garcia eventually rolled it down himself. Then the officer rolled it up and locked it.

Forty seconds later, Garcia smashed a car window with his feet. Pereira said in a report that Garcia kicked his chest several times.

Police later used pepper spray to try to subdue Garcia, cuffed his ankles and moved him to another vehicle, where he broke a second window.

He was removed from the police car and his ankle and wrist cuffs were zip-tied together, a practice often called “hog-tying.” About 15 minutes later, he was limp. He died a week later after his family took him off life support.

Garcia’s family settled a wrongful death lawsuit last year with the state government and Hanover Township for $700,000.

Most officials involved in the investigation and lawsuit refused to speak with NJ Advance Media.


Information from: The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger, https://www.nj.com

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