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Federal Judge Orders Fresno Police Department To Release Footage of 2017 Death

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Lawyers John Taylor and Neil Gehlawat watch the unedited version of the body camera footage with the Perez family at a press conference in Fresno, CA.

A federal judge ordered the Fresno Police Department to release edited body camera footage Friday related to the 2017 death of an unarmed Fresno resident, Joseph Perez. The family is suing for wrongful death and excessive force in federal court. 

 

In 2017, Fresno County Sheriff’s received a “check the welfare” call regarding the 41-year-old dad of two. The 9-1-1 caller describes Perez as a “Hispanic gentleman kind of running sideways and backwards and kind of throwing his arms up in the air.” 

 

Deputies initially arrived at the wrong location. Three Fresno police officers returning from an unrelated incident then saw Perez on a public street before stopping him, according to a statement from former Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall. 

 

Shortly after, Perez attempted to walk into the street. Due to his mental state, a Fresno police officer called for paramedics before turning on his body camera video, according to a news release from the Fresno Police Department. 

 

Before sharing the unedited version, the family's attorney, John Taylor with Taylor & Ring Law Firm, said the public needed to see what happened next. 

 

“During this entire video you see here, he is handcuffed and faced down on the ground,” Taylor said at a press conference with the second attorney Neil Gehlawat, and the Perez family on Friday. 

 

For nearly 15 minutes the footage shows Perez’s increased distress as police officers restrain him. He even calls out for his dad.

 

American Ambulance paramedics, who also arrived at the wrong location, showed up and “took charge of Mr. Perez’s medical care,” according to Hall. The footage shows they place a backboard on top of Perez.  

 

“I can’t breathe,” Perez said as police officers and paramedics pushed down on the backboard. 

 

A paramedic instructs an officer to sit on the board while they attempt to tie his arms and legs to the board. Within minutes Perez’s body goes limp. The footage shows paramedics tied his hands to the backboard before flipping it over. Paramedics pronounced him dead before arriving at the nearest hospital.  

 

The Fresno County pathologist determined the cause of death for Perez to be compression asphyxia, where respiration is prevented by external pressure on the body. The coroner's office classified Perez’s death as a homicide. 

 

In his statement, Hall pointed to Perez’s toxic levels of methamphetamine, as noted by the coroner’s office, as a contributor to his death. Gehlawat argued it was not the cause of his death. 

 

Through tears, Perez’s wife, Terralee Perez said, she has so many unanswered questions. 

 

“Our lives have changed forever but what about the officers, the deputies and the paramedics? What have they changed? Are they still doing the same protocols?” she asked.   

The case is set to go to trial in May 2022.

Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.