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Update: Docs say man was faking 'coma' after arrest at Tucson casino

A man who was shot at by police — but not struck by any bullets — during a Saturday incident at a Tucson-area casino was seemingly pretending to be in a coma when he was taken to a hospital because he was non-responsive.

While the man — whose identity has not been released by law enforcement — apparently managed to fool both police officers and emergency room doctors for hours, an extensive set of tests showed no brain injuries caused by a lack of oxygen.

Sunday afternoon, he was awake and sitting up in a bed at a local hospital, with a pair of officers keeping watch. It's possible he may be released Sunday, sources said.

The man was involved in a Saturday incident at Casino of the Sun that included officers of the Pascua Yaqui Police Department firing their guns at him late in the afternoon or early evening. The man was not shot, nor were any officers reportedly shot at.

The man, described as white and middle-aged, was taken to a local hospital emergency room and was reportedly in a coma overnight, with indications that he may not survive, sources said Saturday night. Sunday, hospital sources with information about the case said that the man was breathing on his own, and had not been intubated overnight.

"There's no (medical) reason to suspect inappropriate force by the cops," said a hospital source, who provided information on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

After being given physical reflex tests and other exams, the man was assessed Saturday evening as unresponsive and not protecting his airway, along with other indications of a coma, according to sources. Further examinations determined that there was no apparent brain damage.

Social media posts Saturday described an incident in which "fake bills" were attempted to be passed at the casino, on West Valencia Road on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation. During a confrontation, the man reportedly pulled out a BB pistol, and then a knife, and was shot at by tribal police officers several times, sources said.

PYPD did not respond to a request for comment. TucsonSentinel.com could not immediately verify the claimed eyewitness accounts of the incident, nor details relayed by law enforcement sources.

The FBI is investigating the incident, but has not responded to requests for comment. The Tucson Police Department was not involved in the case, a spokesman said. The Pima County Sheriff's Department was contacted to investigate the shooting incident, Sheriff Mark Napier told TucsonSentinel.com, but then "the FBI decided to take it." The FBI often investigates serious incidents that take place on reservations that involve people who are not Native Americans.

Unlike the Sheriff's Department and municipal police, tribal police are not subject to Arizona public records laws.

Hospital sources indicated that the man had bruises on his face, was in a coma Saturday night, and would possibly have to be intubated because of breathing complications. Despite officers shooting at him, he was not injured by any bullets. The man had no indications of severe head or neck injuries Saturday night.

He was given a set of tests that showed normal brain activity, with no indication that he was ever actually in a coma. One source said it was likely the man was "malingering" and pretending to be unresponsive, both with police and EMS personnel who took him to the hospital, and later when he was examined in the emergency room.

This original news reporting was partly supported by the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, which awarded Sentinel Editor Dylan Smith a Brechner Reporting Fellowship to pursue in-depth journalism about government secrecy.

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1 comment on this story

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30 comments
Oct 5, 2020, 8:41 am
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It’s… disquieting that PY police fired shots and only hit their own casino.  At TPD and PCSO if an officer draws his weapon there’s an investigation; if the officer fires the weapon there’s an automatic suspension as well.

Is PY letting these Keystone Kops stay on active duty after having demonstrated they can only hit the broad side of their own casino?

It’s also weird that the EMTs went for the “fake coma.”

M

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