Surveillance video (below) recently surfaced of Vachel Howard dying inside a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) station on June 4, 2012, while some officers smile and laugh.
The 56-year-old grandfather had been taken into custody for allegedly driving while intoxicated, notes ProPublica.
Howard was handcuffed to a bench in the station, but became "violent and combative" after having his handcuffs removed, according to officers.
In the video, one officer uses a Taser on Howard, and six others tackle him. For about four minutes, police were either on top of Howard or gathered around him while handcuffing his arms and feet.
For some period of time, Officer Richard Fox, who weighed 230 pounds, had a knee in Howard's back; Officer Juan Romero had an arm around the grandfather's neck and shoulders, notes ProPublica.
After Howard passed out and lay motionless on the floor, some officers are seen smiling and laughing.
Four people later attempted CPR over the course of nine minutes. Paramedics then tried to revive Howard for eight more minutes. Eventually, Howard was taken to an ambulance.
A coroner later determined that Howard died from cocaine intoxication, heart disease and a choke hold.
The City of Los Angeles paid Howard's family a $2.85 million settlement (of taxpayer dollars) in a wrongful death claim in October 2015.
The LAPD refused to release the surveillance video of the incident, the city attorney's office said it did not have a copy, and a clerk for Judge S. James Otero, who oversaw the case, said it was not the judge's policy to release videos to news media organizations.
However, ProPublica was still able to obtain the video and released the footage in the public interest.
The LAPD and city attorney's office refused to comment to ProPublica, which reports that Romero was suspended for 22 days, but not prosecuted. The LAPD defended Romero in court records and alleged that Howard attempted to bite Romero.
The LAPD refused to allow ProPublica to interview any of the officers involved.
The city's Board of Police Commissioners later ruled that Romero’s chokehold violated policy. For his part, Romero said that he only applied the chokehold for five seconds, and added that Howard did not pass out.
Officer Fox said in court papers that he put his knee into Howard’s back for about a minute to keep control, and because he (Fox) was exhausted.
Matt Johnson, president of the Board of Police Commissioners, told the Los Angeles Times in July that he thinks the LAPD should revisit its policy about not releasing police videos to the public (whose tax dollars pay for them).
"Our video release policy was never written in stone and I believe now is a good time to revisit it," Johnson told the newspaper.
"Video, while an important piece of evidence, does not tell the entire story," Johnson added. "I want to make sure that when video is released it is done within a framework of releasing other evidence that helps complete the picture."
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who has held his position since 2009, told the newspaper that he is currently open to releasing certain police videos "at the proper time in the proper framework," but noted privacy concerns and criminal/administrative investigations.
"I don’t want to ever impair that because of a rush to release," Beck said. "But I’m not opposed to coming up with a way where we can satisfy more concerns here."
Carl Marziali, a spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, said: "Mayor Garcetti [in office since 2013] has always been open to changes in the policy, with the understanding that we must preserve the integrity of the disciplinary and criminal justice processes, and the fundamental rights to privacy and due process that everyone deserves, in or out of uniform."
Sources: ProPublica, Los Angeles Times / Photo credit: Los Angeles Police Department via ProPublica/YouTube