Phoenix police release video of man who died after they arrested him | Phoenix New Times


Phoenix police release video of man who died after they arrested him

Benjamin Austin, 58, among 18 people who died during encounters with Phoenix police in 2023.
Benjamin Austin was transported to a Phoenix hospital before he died on Nov. 30, a day after police arrested him.
Benjamin Austin was transported to a Phoenix hospital before he died on Nov. 30, a day after police arrested him. Phoenix Police Department
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The Phoenix Police Department has released video footage and other details about a 58-year-old man who died while in police custody, the 18th deadly encounter with officers this year.

Benjamin Austin died on Nov. 30, a day after police arrested him in the area of 12th Way and Roeser Road so they could question him about an armed kidnapping in October. Nearly 40 minutes after sitting alone in an interview room at police headquarters in downtown Phoenix, a detective found him unresponsive. He died at a local hospital.

The video footage police released on Thursday is included in one of the agency's “critical incident briefings," which are made public after any police shooting or in-custody death. The briefings are narrated by officers and include edited compilations of body camera footage, dispatch audio and other information regarding an incident. Activists have criticized the department's decision to release edited videos rather than complete footage of fatal incidents.

Some 18 people have died during encounters with Phoenix police in 2023. Officers shot and killed 12 people, while some of the other deaths were not caused by officers.
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Police said Benjamin Austin “suffered a medical episode” at their downtown headquarters on Nov. 29.
Matt Hennie

Austin ‘suffered a medical episode’

The released footage begins with two police officers approaching Austin outside of a Phoenix residence. One of the officers handcuffed Austin, while the other explained that there was a “girl making some accusations about something that happened between you (Austin) and her.” In the video, Austin appeared to be compliant as officers handcuffed and placed him in a squad car.

According to the incident briefing, Austin complained of his handcuffs being too tight while he sat in the back of the police vehicle. Body camera footage showed an officer loosening the handcuffs before remarking, “I don’t think he is super ambulatory.”

At this point, Austin showed signs of agitation as an officer readjusted his handcuffs, but he complied with the officers' commands. He was then taken to police headquarters on West Washington Street for questioning about the October kidnapping incident. The agency did not provide additional information about the alleged kidnapping.

Austin was placed in an interview room at police headquarters where he reportedly was monitored on closed-circuit TV by detectives in another room. In the footage released by the agency, Austin leaned against a wall while breathing heavily.

After 38 minutes, a detective entered the interview room and found Austin unresponsive, according to police. He performed CPR on Austin while the fire department was called. Austin was transported to a hospital and died Nov. 30, a day after being taken into custody. The exact cause of Austin's death has not yet been released.

In a written statement released Dec. 4, Sgt. Melissa Soliz, a Phoenix police spokesperson, said Austin “suffered a medical episode.” Soliz did not elaborate.

After Austin was transported to a hospital, police said they found several blue pills underneath where he was seated in the interview room, according to the incident briefing. But police did not provide additional information or video footage linking the pills to Austin or explaining how they ended up in the room.

Phoenix police fatal encounters in 2023

Phoenix police officers have shot and killed 12 people so far this year, and officers also were involved in six additional fatal incidents. In some of the cases, the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner determined that the deaths were not caused by officers.
  • Jan. 3: Officers shot and killed Cosme Medina Núñez, a 46-year-old man who was holding a pair of scissors.

  • Jan. 7: Officers shot and killed Kenneth Hearne, 37, who was armed with a handgun. Hearne shot a Scottsdale police officer the day prior.

  • Feb. 11: Bryan Funk, a 40-year-old man who had just been released from prison, died after multiple officers pinned him to the ground and restrained his legs during an arrest. The medical examiner later determined that Funk's death was the result of meth intoxication and a heart condition, according to a report obtained by New Times.

  • Feb. 22: Derin Holmes, 41, died of a gunshot wound. Although officers fired at Holmes, Phoenix police said the fatal wound was self-inflicted. A subsequent investigation by the medical examiner also determined Holmes died by suicide.

  • Feb. 22: Officers shot and killed Jason Resendez, 47, who pulled out a gun as officers approached him.

  • Feb. 25: Officers shot and killed Matthew Anthony Sansotta, 36, during a DUI investigation.

  • March 5: Officers shot and killed James Saucedo, 42. Officers said Saucedo shot a woman before they arrived. Body camera footage showed him grabbing his gun during a struggle with officers before he was fatally shot.

  • March 6: Officers shot and killed Anthony Castro, 40. Body camera footage showed that Castro was stabbing a woman when he was shot.

  • March 14: Police said Daniel Parra, 37, fled when officers tried to stop him as he walked in an HOV lane on Interstate 17. Officers chased Parra into a QuikTrip where he brandished a knife, barricaded himself inside a storage room and set the room afire, police said. When SWAT officers entered the room, Parra was unresponsive. The medical examiner determined that Parra's primary cause of death was smoke inhalation.

  • April 1: Officers shot and killed Dwight Cornwell, 76, after he fired a handgun into the air while the officers were investigating reports of an attempted burglary at an apartment complex.

  • June 19: Luis Mateo Jacobo Borja, 29, died after shooting at multiple police officers during a pursuit, sending two officers to the hospital. It's still unclear whether Borja died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound or from an officer's rifle fire, police said.

  • June 28: Officers shot and killed Juan Reynoso, 26, who they claimed was holding a gun, which later turned out to be a replica. His family has called for justice for his death.

  • July 1: Officers shot and killed Raul Mendez, 35, while responding to a complaint about a burglary. They claimed Mendez tried to grab an officer's Taser during a struggle, although publicly released body camera footage does not show clearly what occurred.

  • July 17: Officers shot and killed Armando Reyes, 35, after responding to a call about a car that crashed into a streetlight. Reyes was armed with a handgun, body camera footage from the incident showed.

  • July 20: Javon Kevine, 44, died after being handcuffed by officers at a strip mall at 19th Avenue and Union Hills Drive. Kevine's cause of death was ruled by medical examiners as hyperthermia due to heat exposure. He was also found to have fentanyl and methamphetamines in his system.

  • Sept 9: Robert Crockett, 26, was shot and killed by officers after allegedly committing grand theft auto with a handgun. Police said later the weapon was a pellet gun.

  • Nov. 29: Benjamin Austin, 58, was arrested and suffered what police called a “medical episode” in custody before being hospitalized and dying the next day.

  • Dec. 16: Alton Tungovia, 37, was shot and killed by officers about 2 p.m. when they responded to calls reporting a fight that escalated into a man being stabbed. Officers found Tungovia near 49th Street and McDowell Road. They tried to stop Tungovia by firing pepper balls at him when he refused to stop, according to police. Tungovia continued to walk away with an unidentified object in one of his hands, police said. An officer shot him and he died at an area hospital.

The Phoenix police department is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for its officers’ use of deadly force, among other concerns. The investigation has lasted more than two years. Chief Michael Sullivan was brought in to lead the agency in September 2022 as it dealt with the probe.

Additional reporting by O'Hara Shipe.
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