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Crime & Courts

Family of diabetic who died after police stop still has questions

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Published:   |   Updated: June 3, 2014 at 06:41 AM

The family of community activist Arthur Green Jr. continues to question the actions of Tampa police officers who placed the 63-year-old Green in handcuffs after a traffic stop in April. Green, a diabetic, stopped breathing and later died.

In a statement released over the weekend, Green’s family said relatives remain “deeply troubled ... by the inconsistencies in the TPD accounts of the treatment of Mr. Green at the time of his death.”

The statement said the family is resolute in “finding factual answers to both our previous questions and those that are emerging from this report.”

Police defend the actions of the officers.

“When the officers arrived at the scene, they thought they were dealing with a dangerous driver who was a threat to the public, and the first thing they had to do was eliminate the danger by taking that person into custody,” said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. “Then they can assess what was causing the behavior. It was impossible for the officers to know when they first arrived at the scene — when they witnessed him driving erratically — it’s impossible to know what was causing that. The first thing they have to do is stop the threat to public.”

Green was driving south on Central Avenue in Seminole Heights late on the afternoon of April 16 when he began having medical issues. His car veered erratically and sideswiped two oncoming vehicles, which officer Tony Portman witnessed.

Portman ordered Green out of the car and to hand over the keys.

The police report said Green was combative and resisted. He asked Portman why he was being stopped, why he was being ordered out of the car. He said he didn’t do anything wrong, according to police accounts of the incident. Portman opened the door and tried to pull Green from the car, but he struggled with Portman and backup officers were called.

Officer Matt Smith pulled up and the two lawmen managed to get handcuffs on Green. Smith, who has a relative with diabetes, recognized the symptoms and suggested Green may be in a medical emergency, police said, though Green was not wearing the bracelet typically worn by diabetics to identify themselves in the event of a seizure.

The officers removed the handcuffs and called for an ambulance. At that point, police said, Green stopped breathing.

Paramedics arrived and resuscitated him and he had a faint pulse as he was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he later was pronounced dead. An autopsy concluded Green died of an acute hypoglycemic episode.

After the incident, Green’s family expressed outrage at how he was treated and this week re-iterated their concerns.

“We have questions about this account based on the TPD police report’s sworn witness statements and Officer Anthony Portman’s own statement that he removed Mr. Green from the vehicle and that he along with two or more officers wrestled Mr. Green to the ground,” the statement said. “Then, we have carefully noted that, according to the report, Mr. Green stopped breathing after police officers forced him to the ground then sat upon him while handcuffed.

“For this and other reasons, we obviously have questions about TPD’s conclusion in the report that there is an ‘absence of any evidence of foul play.’ Also, we understand that the video of the incident taken at the scene is a part of the official police report. Thus, we have questions as to why the video has not been made available to the family.”

The family has retained Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, the statement said.

Two-hundred people attended Green’s funeral, at which a resolution from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor was read, thanking Green and his wife of 30 years, Lena Young Green, for all they have done for the Tampa Heights and Robles Park communities.

Green was cofounder of the Robles Park Wildcats Little League Football and Cheerleading organization, and his wife is known for her work on the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, Green ARTery, the Tampa Enterprise Zone Agency and the Tampa Heights Riverfront Community Redevelopment Area advisory committee.

McElroy said the department has completed the death investigation, though the internal affairs investigation is pending. The video is available for the family to view, she said, though she said no one has come to watch it.

“What’s unfortunate is that Mr. Green had serious diabetic episodes in the recent past,” she said, “and he wasn’t wearing a bracelet that would have alerted the officers that he had health issues.”

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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