Coroner says death of LAPD officer during training exercise was an accident
The Los Angeles Coroner's Office said the officer that died during a training exercise at the Los Angeles Police Academy in late May was an accident.
"The LAPD failed to properly protect one of its own," said attorney Bradley Gage, who represents Tipping's mother Shirley Huffman.
According to Coroner's Office, 32-year-old LAPD officer Houston Tipping died of a spinal cord injury after a grappling exercise. During the exercise, Tipping — and the student — fell to the ground onto his neck which fractured part of his vertebrae and ultimately led to his death. The officer also suffered several other injuries.
Additionally, in his report, Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Lawrence Nguyen said he found several other medical-related injuries during the autopsy including a laceration on his left scalp from a C-clamp placement during spinal surgery and fractured ribs that appeared to be from CPR with a LUCAS device.
"A LUCAS device provides mechanical chest compressions and has been known to cause rib fractures and liver lacerations," Nguyen wrote.
Nguyen also added that the office "carefully considered and weighed" the manner of death.
"The manner of death was carefully considered and weighed between homicide and accident," he wrote. "While deaths 'at the hands of another' are typically deemed homicides, there are exceptions that are deemed accidents."
Nguyen listed the examples of a boxing death or a broken neck from a tackle while playing football.
"These deaths occur during organized sports or organized exercises in which the participants are consensual to committing potentially harmful acts and accept inherent risks," he wrote. "Therefore, I have deemed the manner of death in this case to be an accident."
The medical record provided to the Coroner's Office said that Tipping was "possibly dropped" on his head. Tipping immediately "went limp" according to an investigator with the Coroner's Office.
"Why was Houston Tipping picked up and slammed onto his head," said Gage. "That can't be part of any type of training because it's so dangerous."
According to a statement from a sergeant, Tipping and the student were conducting a "face to face bear hug" exercise. They then fell to the ground, "which was a hard mat with not a lot of padding." Tipping reportedly fell first onto his "upper right backside."
"It is also possible the student landed on top of the decedent," officials wrote in the investigator's narrative.
Gage criticized the lack of "proper safety mats."
"Clearly there were not any," he said. "Not enough mats, at least to protect from serious injuries."
The sergeant said Tipping was heard breathing for a few seconds before grasping for air. Shortly after, he stopped breathing,
The sergeant also said that CPR was performed until paramedics arrived. Paramedics continued CPR when they arrived and Tipping was resuscitated after three minutes.
Crews took him to LAC/USC Medical center where he spent the next two days as doctors conducted multiple CT scans and fused his spine. Despite the life-saving measures doctors took, Tipping developed an anoxic brain injury which is when brain cells are killed from lack of oxygen. He was later declared brain dead on May 28. He was then declared dead on May 29.
Tipping's mother disputed the events put forth by officials and said her son was beaten to death.
"Police are... to help protect and serve us all," said Gage. "We certainly don't want to see a police officer needlessly injured or in this case killed."
Gage said he and his office will seek the release of additional information surrounding Tipping's death.
"We know of certain people that witnessed the autopsy," said Gage. "We know some witnesses to the events and that there are photographs. We are going to be seeking the rest of the information that was missing from what we received today from the autopsy. Then after that, we file a lawsuit."
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