A man in Sacramento, CA, is fighting for his life in the intensive care unit after police officers pinned him to the scorching pavement while trying to arrest him last month.
James Bradford Nelson III, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a teenager, was acting erratically in a KFC parking lot when police arrived and attempted to subdue him. It was 100 degrees outside and by The Sacramento Bee’s estimates, roughly 170 degrees on the asphalt pavement at the time of Nelson’s arrest on June 23.
Since his arrest, Nelson has been in the UC Davis Medical Center burn unit with severe third and second degree burns on his face and upper torso. According to Fox40, Nelson has been in the burn unit for 29 days with burns that cover 45% of his body. Nelson’s mother, Tarsha Benigno, told The Bee that Nelson had been off his medication for two weeks and suffering from a schizophrenic episode when he was arrested.
Police officers contend that Nelson was aggressive and allegedly on drugs when they attempted to subdue him in the parking lot (police were unable to prove that he was on drugs, but found a pipe with traces of meth in the parking lot). Security footage inside the KFC shows that Nelson tried to jump the counter and took a swipe at the manager — he also unsuccessfully attempted to steal the manager’s wallet.
Eight police officers responded to the emergency call. A police statement reported by The Bee indicated that they found Nelson in the parking lot “displaying the objective signs of being under the influence of a controlled substance.” The report also suggested that police were entirely unaware of Nelson’s pain during the arrest / grilling.
The Bee noted:
“During the entire contact and struggle on the ground, Nelson was not making sense with what he was saying,” Rinek’s statement reads. He added that he “didn’t hear any screaming” while Nelson was on the pavement, although another officer described him as “yelling” and flailing.”
After holding him on the ground for five minutes, as approximated by the police report, officers noticed Nelson’s burns and doused him in water.
Nelson, who has been charged with attempted robbery, being under the influence of a controlled substance, and resisting arrest, does not remember the events leading up to his arrest. His mother and step father said that he had been in a car accident near the parking lot while visiting family — Nelson called his mother and told her that he would have his cousin bring him home. They did not hear from Nelson, or police, for three days before discovering he was in the intensive care unit with organ failure and severe burns.
Benigno has accused Sacramento police of torturing her son and exaggerating his behavior to excuse their own. On Friday, Black Lives Matter activists demonstrated outside the Citrus Heights, CA, police department. “We don’t care what he was doing,” the Facebook invitation read. “There is no reason to torture any human.”
The Sacramento Bee interviewed Benigno; some of the images are graphic.