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Man dies in hospital days after violent confrontation with TPD officers

34-year-old man fought with Tucson police & was repeatedly tased, taken to hospital where he died 9 days later

A 34-year-old Tucson man died at a hospital Friday afternoon, days after a violent confrontation when he fought with police officers and was repeatedly shocked with a taser.

Jaime Herrera died at St. Joseph's Hospital after suffering a "cardiac event" following an incident on April 13 when he fought with officers for several minutes after climbing down from the roof of a Midtown home. At one point, Herrera — who had been holding a knife — threw a brick at one officer, and as he grappled with them, threw punches, bellowed repeatedly, and bit down on an officer's thumb and refused to let go.

Herrera has a history of methamphetamine abuse, TPD sources told the Sentinel, and court records show he was sentenced to probation in February for aggravated assault on a police officer. At the start of the incident, he yelled at officers to "Just shoot me."

Herrera was tased repeatedly during the incident as he continued to fight with officers for several minutes, until he was finally pinned to the ground by two officers who had responded to the scene. Moments after he was subdued, officers observed that he was close to losing consciousness and put him in a "recovery position." He was treated by medics with Tucson Fire Department, who had arrived at the scene, and then taken to the hospital.

A cause of death has not yet been determined by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Tucson officials said that as "part of its ongoing commitment to public transparency," they decided to release body-worn camera footage and details of the incident after they learned of Herrera's death in the hospital on Friday.

Tucson officials said that early in the morning of April 13, multiple people called 911 about an "erratic" man, who was on the roof of a neighbor's home in the 5700 block of East Fairmount Street near East Speedway and North Craycroft Road.

The man was "armed with multiple weapons," and one caller told officials that Herrera had consumed a drink that made him "trip out," officials said.

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Body-cam footage, time-stamped just after 7 a.m., shows the beginning of the incident, with Herrera sitting on the roof of a home as two TPD officers responded. As the officers—who have not been named—tried to engage Herrera, he yelled out, "It's not going to work, buddy!" Herrera was holding a knife, which he dropped onto the ground within moments, and an officer retrieved it.

The officer responded calmly, "I know. But, just put the knife down."

No!" Herrera yelled back. The officer repeatedly asked Herrera to put the knife down, while another person, who called Herrera "Jimmy," told him to come down.

The officers called for additional help, including officers with Crisis Intervention Training, officials said. As they waited, Herrera began running around on the rooftop with a knife and brick in his hand. At some point, Herrera threw the knife down, but he held onto the brick. "Don't throw that brick," the officer said, and he told several observers to back up.

"All I want to do is help you," the officer told Herrera. "Fuck you," Herrera yelled, and tossed the brick toward the officer.

Herrera's death is not being investigated by the newly formed Pima Regional Critical Incident Team, which has been tasked with investigating major incidents, including shootings, untimely deaths, and anything "that requires law enforcement to be a little bit more transparent with our community." PRCIT recently investigated a TPD shooting, when an officer shot and killed a 27-year-old man after he pointed a gun, first at himself and then at police officers during an incident in late March.

Herrera's death also bears some resemblance to the death of 27-year-old Carlos Adrian Ingram-Lopez, who died while in TPD custody in April 2020.

During the incident, Tucson police officers held Ingram-Lopez down on the floor of a garage, but in that incident, the officers held Ingram-Lopez down for several minutes, even as officers observed signs that he was "overheated" and was suffering signs of "excited delirium," or positional asphyxia.

Three officers were fired stemming from Ingram-Lopez's death after a TPD investigation concluded that they "showed complete disregard" for their training, "but most importantly an apparent indifference or inability to recognize an individual in medical distress and take the appropriate action."

During a news conference, then-Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus offered to resign because of the circumstances surrounding Ingram-Lopez's death, and the long delay that occurred between the incident in April 2020 and revelations about its details which were first reported by TucsonSentinel.com. Others in the department were reassigned in the wake of the incident.

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However, in this most recent case, the officers almost immediately propped Herrera up in a recovery position to ensure his airway was open, and attempted to keep him aware as they waited for medics.

'Jaime, we're not going to hurt you'

When they arrived, while Herrera was on the roof, the officers kept trying to talk to him, in both English and Spanish, to "de-escalate the situation," officials said. At some point, the officer knocked down the ladder to the roof, "in an effort to contain" Herrera, officials wrote. Herrera stayed on the roof for a few minutes, then climbed into a tree next to the house.

"They're going to cut me up in pieces, dog." Herrera yelled to someone in the street. A few moments later, Herrera told the officers, "Bring me water."

"Hey, do you want a water?  the officer asked, putting the question in both Spanish and English. The officers repeatedly call Herrera "buddy" and asked him how they can help him. At one point, Herrera told the officers to shoot him, but the officers repeatedly told him, "Jaime, we're not going to hurt you."

Herrera bellowed at the officer as he worked his way out of the tree, and jumped on the top of a concrete block wall. After a few moments, he awkwardly clambered down on the outside of the wall, close to the officers in the street. Herrera moved toward one officer, and he was immediately hit by a taser. In the video, a knife is clearly visible, dropped by Herrera as he collapsed to the ground.

"Turn on your gut," the officers yelled, and Herrera screams back, and then violently rolled over. Even as the officers tased him, Herrera kept struggling, flinging himself in several directions, and nearly grabbed at the knife that one officer had tossed further away onto the street. At one point, he clasped the wires that connect the taser's barbs to the weapon, and then he stood up. He turned away from the officers, but then changed directions, flinging dirt at one officer. After a moment, Herrera charged at one officer, and then he changed direction to grapple with the first officer. As they fought, Herrera got his teeth around an officer's thumb and bit down.

"Let go of his fucking thumb," screamed the other officer. Both men grabbed at Herrera's jaw, trying to extricate the officer's thumb and, Herrera was tased again. The officer held his taser to Herrera's chest for a few seconds, telling him to "Stop it." But, Herrera continued to yell and fight, as two officers worked to free the officer's thumb before they were able to pin his arms to the ground.

Someone on the street yelled to Herrera "You need to calm down, c'mon...."

Additional officers arrived and were eventually able to put Herrera in handcuffs, and turn him on his side in what's known as a "recovery position." Officers are trained to make sure people they restrain are able to breathe freely, with certain physical positions better for maintaining an open airway.

In the video, one of the officers worked to hold Herrera down, but tells his fellow officers, "We need to get him cuffed and up, he's starting to lose consciousness, we need to get him up."

As medics were brought in, the officers attempted to keep Herrera awake. The video footage shows moments later that officers had placed a mesh spit hood over Herrera's head. Known as a "bio guard," the hood is designed to "protect against the transmission of bodily fluids," officials said. The officers also move to put Herrera in a WRAP device — described as a "safe restraint" system, designed to keep people from kicking or hitting anyone. Tucson officials said they restrained Herrera in the WRAP to "create a safe environment" for both him and Tucson firefighters, who arrived to treat him and later transport him to a hospital. Similar to a straight-jacket, the WRAP includes a series of straps that trap a person's arms behind their back, and includes straps to hold their legs together.

After Herrera was restrained, he was placed on a gurney, placed in a waiting ambulance and transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

During the trip, Tucson firefighters "continued to administer care and completed a rapid patient assessment, all in accordance with established medical protocols." While enroute, Herrera had a "cardiac event," and medics "immediately began performing CPR and advanced life support interventions and continued those measures until they arrived at the hospital."

"Because of these actions, Mr. Herrera did regain a pulse and respiration," city officials said. Nine days later, Herrera died at the hospital.

It's not clear what caused Herrera's "cardiac event."

Tasers—produced by Scottsdale-based Axon Enterprises—are known as nonlethal, or less-than-lethal weapons, and are designed to allow officers to safely subdue "non-compliant" people. However, since the taser was unveiled in 2001, at least 1,000 people have died after they were hit by tasers. The weapon fires two barbed darts that carry a thin wire into which an electrical current is delivered. Police officers are trained to not to shoot people in the chest with the weapon, for fear that the current will affect a person's heart. And, in 2009, Axon—then known as Taser for the eponymous weapon—said that the company" has long stood by the fact that our technology is not risk-free and is often used during violent and dangerous confrontations."

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TPD

Part of body-worn camera footage from a violent incident between TPD and 34-year-old Jaime Herrera, who fought with officers after climbing on a neighbor's roof. At one point, Herrera — who had been carrying a knife — threw a brick at an officer, and bit down on an officer's thumb as he struggled.