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No charges in death of man who told cops he couldn’t breathe

SCOTT, La. » A grand jury in Louisiana has declined to indict police officers who held a man down, with officers on top of him, and did not get up even after he told them, "I can’t breathe."

Robert Minjarez Jr., 30, died five days after his arrest by Carencro and Scott police and sheriff’s deputies outside a gas station in Lafayette Parish, The Advertiser reports.

Because grand jury proceedings are always secret, no details were available. Jurors reviewed evidence presented by the district attorney, who had been sent an investigation report prepared by state police and the FBI.

In addition, the newspaper quotes a statement from the FBI as saying that its investigation did not turn up anything the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Unit could prosecute.

A report from the Lafayette Parish coroner described the main cause of Minjarez’s death as "compressional asphyxia due to face-down physical restraint by law enforcement officers."

It said contributing causes were cocaine toxicity and rhabdomyolysis — muscle breakdown which can have a number of causes including cocaine and other drugs.

The coroner’s report said video from the store and from police car dashcams showed that at least three or four officers remained wholly or partly on top of Minjarez after his hands and legs were cuffed. His upper body was on the street, and his hips and legs were on the sidewalk, the report said.

For about five minutes, the report said, Minjarez is heard on dashcam audio screaming, "Help! Help! Help me! Get off! You’re going to kill me!" The report also quotes him as saying "You’re going to suffocate…" and "I can’t breathe" three times. He cried and screamed, his voice becoming "increasingly muffled, hoarse and strained" while repeating "I can’t breathe," the report added.

About five minutes after he was restrained, the report said, Minjarez groaned and gurgled, and an officer said, "You got 265 pounds on your back, you’re not going anywhere." The suspect groaned "and no more sounds are heard from him," the report said.

The grand jury issued its decision Wednesday. The officers’ names have not been released.

"I can’t breathe" became a national rallying cry last year for protesters demonstrating the death of an unarmed black man who had been detained by police in New York City. On July 17, 2014, a white plainclothes police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, applied what a medical examiner determined was a chokehold to Eric Garner, who was accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a city street. A videotape of the takedown of Gardner, who had asthma, showed him repeatedly saying, "I can’t breathe," while officers wrestled him to the ground. Garner died soon after, and a grand jury later decided not to indict Pantaleo.

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