“I can’t breathe!” Police Body Cam Footage Bears Resemblance to Eric Garner Case

“The officers treated me like an animal.”

Bearing a chilling resemblance to a video documenting the 2014 strangulation of New York City resident Eric Garner in Staten Island, body cam footage of the June 2016 arrest of Denver resident Greg Heard shows a Denver Police Department officer identified as Officer Greg Dulayev ignoring the calls from Heard that he can’t breathe.

In June 2016, Greg Heard who is African American and experiencing homelessness in Denver was approached by Denver Police Officer Greg Dulayev and ordered to come out from behind bushes.  Body cam footage worn by Dulayev shows Heard coming out from the bushes in an apparent act of compliance.  Both hands are visible when Heard is tased by Dulayev as Heard is stepping out of the bushes.  As Heard falls to the ground officers pile on him while yelling, “Stop resisting!” as an officer put his knee to Heard’s back.

Another unidentified officer says, “You’ll get tased again.  Put your other hand behind  your back!”

Greg Heard can be heard gasping for breath and repeatedly telling the officers that he can’t breathe.  An initial reaction to those words was Dulayev repeating Heard’s words, “He is saying he can’t breath,” but then responding to Heard, “You’re talking now, so you can breathe.”

In a press release from supporters of Heard who is pursuing legal representation, the Denver Justice Project, a racial justice group that works for police and district attorney accountability and Denver Homeless Out Loud, an organization that works for the rights of the homeless said why they are coming out in support of the tasing victim,

“[Officer Dulayev] is telling paramedics an exaggerated version of how the event unfolded and the level of threat the man posed.  The officers also offered a version of events in their written report that favored their own side and covered for the abuse.  [Mr Heard] was displaying no agitation, no aggression, not attempting to escape, and posing no threat to anyone.  It is clear in the video that Mr. Heard  was trying to be cooperative, submit to the officer’s orders, and explain his situation, but before being given a meaningful chance to do so, he is needlessly tased in the chest and apparently struck with the butt of a taser by Officer Dulayev, causing him immediate, serious pain and difficulty breathing for minutes thereafter.  The video goes on to show that as Mr. Heard fell to the ground – perceiving that he was going to die, and incapacitated by the tasing – Officer Dulayev then put his knee in Mr. Heard’s back and began shouting: “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!” to cover up the fact that he had just rendered Mr. Heard defenseless with the  taser with no justification and despite no resistance whatsoever.”

In the video, Dulayev can be heard telling a paramedic on the scene that Heard refused to stop when instructed by officers to do so, but that claim is challenged by Heard supporters and by the video, “In the video, Officer Dulayev and another responding officer can be heard continuing to  cover up their abuse during after-action discussion with paramedics who arrived on the scene. In their reports, the officers pretend that this homeless man was disobeying repeated orders and threatening them, while the video plainly shows he was doing no such thing.”

In an interview with The Nation Report, John Holland of the law offices of Holland, Holland, Edwards, and Grossman, a civil rights and elder abuse law firm, said that he took the case because, “I just thought it was wrong.”  Holland said that he felt Heard was given no opportunity to surrender, that there was no need for what happened, and that Heard was tased for nothing, “In this town you can be tased for breathing.”  When asked if the law firm would address police training, Holland responded that the issue was not so much a training issue, “He was tased because people are mean.”

At a time when law enforcement conduct is under public scrutiny and where several public meetings are scheduled to address Denver’s use-of-force policy  Alex Landau, member of the Denver Justice Project and himself a survivor of police violence encouraged the public to be present at the meetings, “This is a direct example of why community needs to be at the table. and to remember the abuses Mr. Heard, and so many other Denver residents have been forced to endure. This case unfortunately represents patterns and practices seen many times in Denver police and the dehumanization of our community members who are experiencing homelessness. This is not acceptable, and will never be acceptable, no matter how many times our city finds ways to describe this type of behavior as ‘justified.’”

Terese Howard, member of Denver Homeless Out Loud  commented “This police officer’s complete disregard for the life of a Black homeless man and use of unjustified force is, unfortunately, all too common. “Police interaction is a daily event for many people experiencing homelessness as laws are made to make surviving in public space, where homeless people must survive, illegal.  All too often this involves invisible police violence against our community.”

In a press release received by The Nation Report, Greg Heard responded to the incident, “Residents, along with sworn officers, have a duty to practice accountability when they fall outside of the expected parameters by disobeying the law.  After assaulting me unprovoked, Officer Dulayev displayed zero remorse.  He laughed at me.  The officers treated me like an animal.  They wrote false and misleading statements on the use of force report.”

Heard expressed his intention to file a law suit for a civil rights violation.

“The video shows a disturbing example of the cultural pattern present in part of DPD that condones officers giving false reports to investigators and in official records that cover for their abuses – practice that continues to be tolerated by our city’s top officials.”

Three meetings have been scheduled to address the Denver Police Department’s use of force policy:

  • Jan. 24, Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver, 3333 Holly Street, 5-8 p.m.
  • Jan. 28, Elevate Denver Church, 2205 W. 30th Avenue, 9 a.m -12 p.m.
  • Feb. 4, Red Shield Community Center, 2915 N. High Street, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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