Two years ago, Charles Sampson Sr., 58, died in police custody hours after cops pulled him over during a traffic stop.
The Imperial Valley Press reported at the time that officers stopped Sampson around 6 p.m. on December 3, 2013, in California's El Centro, and found a shotgun in his car. Sampson was reportedly on probation at the time, and his possession of the firearm was a violation, so the officer made an arrest. Before taking him to jail, however, police took Sampson to his home where they searched for drugs. During that time, Sampson became very ill.
Family members who were there at the time described the scene to the Press. His sister-in-law, Denise Scott, said "he was walking and falling and shaking and his son walked up to him and said ‘Dad, you OK?’ and he said, ‘I’m just cold." Scott could tell something was seriously wrong, and urged the cops to call a paramedic. The IV Press reported that Scott, who had worked as a police dispatcher before, eventually called 911 herself, and was hung up on twice.
Sampson's wife, Laverne, told the IV Press she knew her husband was in danger, but that the arresting officers told her he was faking the symptoms. She said they told her that "He’s scared. He knows he’s in trouble. He’s putting on a show for his family." Scott said Sampson's family had tried to get him help for two hours. Officers did not find drugs in the house.
Police gave the Press a less harrowing version of the story:
El Centro police said that after the compliance check was completed at Charles’ home, they took him to the Police Department to complete the booking process, and there, they saw he had difficulty walking and took him to ECRMC. Charles arrived at the hospital unresponsive. ECRMC is just under two miles from the family’s home.
The Coroner's report for Sampson, posted online by the IV Press describes Sampson's symptoms as captured by the police car's dash cam:
At approximately 1850 hours, the decedent can be seen placing an object in his mouth and beginning to chew and swallow. This was not witness by an officer, but can be seen on the mobile audio video system (MAV) within Officer Thompson's patrol vehicle. From that point on, the decedent can be seen beginning to sweat, his cheeks become glossy, his eyes begin to change…. As time passed by you could see the decedent's facial expressions and facial features change to what appeared to be that of being in pain and under the influence of a controlled substance.
The report rules the death an accidental one.
This week, the family's lawyers have put a video up which shows the arrest and the moment the doctor told members of Sampson's family he had died. In a statement posted to the video page on YouTube, they wrote, "This footage is taken from the body and dash cameras of the El Centro Police Department," adding:
On December 3, 2013 Charlie's wellbeing was ignored by the El Centro Officers shown in this footage. Alarmed at his demeanor, Charlie's family called 911 for a paramedic; however, the families' request was called off by an El Centro Police Officer. Charlie died later that night due to the Officers' failure to summon medical care.
The footage is horrifying:
The video reveals Sampson apparently taking a methamphetamine pill, which killed him (the AP reports Sampson died of methamphetamine intoxication). The video also shows an officer telling a 911 dispatcher to ignore calls for help from the Sampson household. "The guy we're out with right now is putting on somewhat of a show," he said.
The AP reports that Sampson's family is now suing the officers, the police and the city for death and wrongful death.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.