Bodycam footage shows handcuffed Black man telling Ohio police he ‘can’t breathe’ before his death

Two police officers are on paid leave after the death of an Ohio man who was handcuffed and left facedown on a barroom floor

John Seewer,Mark Scolforo
Friday 26 April 2024 13:07 BST
Custody Death Ohio
Custody Death Ohio

An Ohio man who was handcuffed and left facedown on the floor of a social club last week died in police custody and the officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave.

Police body-camera footage released Wednesday shows a Canton police officer responding to a report of a crash and finding Frank Tyson, a 53-year-old East Canton resident, by the bar in a nearby AMVETS post.

The crash at about 8 p.m. on April 18 had severed a utility pole. Officer Beau Schoenegge's body-camera footage shows that after a passing motorist directed police to the bar, a woman opened the door and said: "Please get him out of here, now.”

Police grabbed Tyson and he resisted being handcuffed and said repeatedly, “They’re trying to kill me” and “Call the sheriff,” as he was taken to the floor.

They restrained him — including with a knee on his back — and he immediately told officers he could not breathe. A recent Associated Press investigation found those words — “I can't breathe” — had been disregarded in other cases of deaths in police custody.

Officers told Tyson he was fine, to calm down and to stop fighting as he was facedown with his legs crossed on the carpeted floor. Police were joking with bystanders and leafing through Tyson's wallet before realizing he was in a medical crisis.

Five minutes after the body-camera footage recorded Tyson saying "I can’t breathe,” one officer asked another if Tyson had calmed down. The other replied, “He might be out.”

Tyson telling officers he was unable to breathe echoes the events preceding the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020. Tyson was Black, according to the coroner’s office. The race of the police officers has not been confirmed.

Tyson did not move when an officer told him to stand and tried to roll him over. They shook him and checked for a pulse.

Minutes later, an officer said medics needed to “step it up” because Tyson was not responding and the officer was unsure if he could feel a pulse. Officers began CPR.

The Canton police report about Tyson’s death that was issued Friday said that “shortly after securing him,” officers “recognized that Tyson had become unresponsive” and that CPR was performed. Doses of Narcan were also administered before medics arrived. Tyson was pronounced dead at a hospital less than an hour later.

Chief investigator Harry Campbell with the Stark County Coroner’s Office said Thursday an autopsy was conducted earlier in the week and Tyson’s remains were released to a funeral home.

His niece, Jasmine Tyson, called the video “nonsense” in an interview with WEWS-TV in Cleveland. “It just seemed like forever that they finally checked him,” Jasmine Tyson said.

Frank Tyson was released from state prison on April 6 after serving 24 years on a kidnapping and theft case and was almost immediately declared a post-release control supervision violator for failing to report to a parole officer, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Two Canton traffic bureau officers, Schoenegge and Camden Burch, were put on paid administrative leave as the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation looks into the matter.

In a statement Thursday, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation said its probe will not determine if force was justified and that the prosecuting attorney or a grand jury will decide if charges related to the use of force are warranted.

In a statement released Wednesday, Canton Mayor William V. Sherer II said he expressed his condolences to Frank Tyson's family in person.

“As we make it through this challenging time, my goal is to be as transparent with the community as possible,” Sherer said.

The U.S. Department of Justice has warned police officers since the mid-1990s to roll suspects off their stomachs as soon as they are handcuffed because of the danger of positional asphyxia.

Many policing experts agree that someone can stop breathing if pinned on their chest for too long or with too much weight because it can compress the lungs and put stress on the heart. But when done properly, putting someone on their stomach is not inherently life-threatening.

An investigation led by The Associated Press published in March found more than 1,000 people died over a decade after police subdued them through means not intended to be lethal, including prone restraint.


Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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