California cops pulled a man over in May 2014, suspecting him of driving drunk, but he ended up dying in their custody.
But the Hayward Police Department, which regular sends out media updates about homicides and missing persons – never publicly acknowledged the death of James Greer.
And the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office never opened an investigation into the death of the 46-year-old man.
All that was known was that the Alameda County Coroner determined Greer died by “PCP intoxication associated with physical exertion” – as if he had taken angel dust and gone for a jog.
It was not until October 2015 after his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Hayward Police Department that the media finally got wind of the incident.
And this week, a body cam video of the incident was released to the media, finally bringing much-needed attention to a death in custody that went unnoticed for more than a year.
And the video is not pretty, showing an obese man who was cooperating and not being combative, communicating with the officer about his medical conditions that may affect his ability to perform a roadside sobriety test.
Greer began to perform the test, placing his feet together and holding his head back with his eyes closed when he noticed a second cop standing to his right.
That was when he appeared to get scared, telling the officer in front of him, “What are you guys going to do to me. I don’t understand, I don’t understand.”
“I’m testing your balance to see how much have you had to drink tonight,” the officer said.
“I haven’t drank nothing,” he responded
“I’m trying to give you a field sobriety test,” the cop said.
Greer then took a step to his left.
“Don’t be walking away from me,” the cop said, grabbing his wrist.
“Hey, what are you guys doing to me,” Greer asked as several other officers began grabbing onto him.
“Relax,” one cop said before one cop had his arm around his neck.
They quickly had him on his back with him repeating, “what are you doing?”.
Then Hayward officers joined by Bay Area Rapid Transit officers rolled him over, ordering him to place his hands behind his back but it appeared as if he was using his hands to keep his face from being smashed into the ground.
They then tasered him, managing to get one hand in cuffs while ordering him to place his other hand behind his back – all while several cops are piled on top of him.
They kept telling him to “relax” even though it would be impossible to relax in that situation with several cops on top him and one of them shoving his head into the asphalt. And all he was doing was breathing heavy and asking why were they treating him that way.
And probably trying to position head where he could breathe.
After ten minutes into the traffic stop, he had relaxed to the point where he was no longer moving or speaking.
But they still kept their bodies still piled on top of him with a hand still holding his head down.
“You’re doing all right bro,” one cop asked Greer. “Just take a deep breath.”
But by then, it appeared he had stopped breathing.
“He’s unconscious,” one of them said after they had rolled him over.
Then they all stepped off him, about ten cops in all, each of them asking the other if they were okay, laughing and joking about what an intense struggle they had just gone through, comparing scratches on each other’s arms, hands and elbows.
One of the them told Greer’s lifeless body to “wake up.”
I”m rolling by the way, want me to turn it off,” the cop with the body cam asks his supervisor.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” the supervisor responded and the camera goes off.
According to the San Jose Mercury News in its article from October 2015, the first article on the incident:
According to the lawsuit, Greer’s only form of resistance was refusing to lay on the ground because he had a stomach hernia. Stanley Goff, an attorney representing James Greer’s son, Joseph Greer, said footage from a body camera worn by the BART officer who assisted in the stop shows James Greer wasn’t combative. According to Goff, the 380-pound man couldn’t put his hands behind his back because of his weight.
“If you see the video, he wasn’t fighting or resisting or trying to twist or wrestle,” Goff said. “They Tased him, then they Tased him again, then they Tased him again, and he stopped breathing.”
The family declined to provide the video.
Officers also sat on all four of Greer’s extremities and his back, according to the suit.
According to the coroner’s report, Greer was asked to take a field sobriety test and began to struggle with officers.
The report further states that officers deployed a Taser multiple times and handcuffed Greer, before placing him in a WRAP full-body restraint. Greer lost consciousness after being put into the WRAP, according to the report.
Greer had a lengthy rap sheet dating back 20 years, with arrests for property crimes, resisting arrest and drugs.
Deana Greer, James Greer’s ex-wife, said her former husband wasn’t a violent person and that she had no knowledge of him ever using PCP.