The Fort Worth Police Department has terminated five officers and suspended two for their involvement in the death of Christopher Lowe, 55, while he was in police custody last July.
Internal Affairs determined that the patrol officers violated multiple policies last year when they arrested Lowe, who died in the officers’ care after complaining of not being able to breathe. T. Stephens, D. Pritzker, C. Golden, H. Fellhauer and M. Miller were fired. And A. Scharf and S. Smith were suspended for 5 days and 90 days, respectively, without pay. Six out of the seven officers are appealing the decision. Scott Smith was the lone officer who accepted his punishment in lieu of being terminated.
FWPD issued a statement, regarding the outcome. A spokesperson said: “Any time there is a loss of life during any police contact, we ensure that a thorough and fair investigation is conducted. The sanctity of life is the most important principle to the Fort Worth Police Department, at all times. The actions taken by the officers involved in this incident discovered during our investigation, are not in accordance with the values of the Fort Worth Police Department or the standards that the citizens of Fort Worth have for their police department.”
While it’s “great” the department held its incompetent officers responsible for Lowe’s death, Terry Daffron, the attorney representing the officers, blamed the incident on a lack of training.
“The department has been very critical of the officers’ inactions at the scene. What the department is not acknowledging is that there was clearly a systematic failure in training. These officers received very limited training regarding the symptoms of excited delirium, and that training was only classroom-based,” he said.
Apparently, the officers, who should be able to identify if someone is in duress, didn’t possess enough common sense to administer aid to Lowe even if they didn’t believe him. It’s Daffron’s assertion that it’s the department’s responsibility to teach what any person on the street would know, to call an ambulance to be safe.
On the night in question, the police responded to a burglar call. Officer Smith arrived on the scene first. Lowe was caught banging a pipe on the bars on the window of a home where he didn’t live. Smith called for back up and when Golden and Miller arrived, Lowe threw the pipe. As Lowe was being handcuffed, he complained about being ill.
According to the report, Lowe was compliant throughout the arrest although he said he was unable to stand on his own. Smith told Lowe, “If you had all this energy to fight and hit the windows, you can walk.”
He also told the other officers that Lowe’s eyes were “bugged out.”
He continued to collapse as the officers assisted him to get in the car.
Lowe suddenly screamed, “I can’t breathe!”
Pritzker told him, “If you spit on me, bud, I’m gonna put your face in the (expletive) dirt.”
All of the officers were aware of Lowe’s inability to breathe and walk, yet they never called for medical help. As he insisted that he be taken to a hospital, he was threatened and subsequently ignored. Two of the officers, Stephens and Pritzker, even tried to withhold vital information from hospital officials about his real condition so that Lowe would be admitted without them being confined to guard duty.
Lowe died of an overdose in the backseat of the patrol car. They only administered CPR after they found him unresponsive in the backseat.
Daffron stresses that the officers weren’t malicious in their lack of concern and response for Lowe’s health.
“These officers did not act with malevolent hearts, when the officers realized that Mr. Lowe was in distress, they immediately started CPR and called for Medstar. The officers continued CPR and taking turns switching out with each other to avoid exhaustion until MedStar arrived on the scene.”