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Activists call for new investigation into N.J. in-custody death in ambulance after documentary

Independent pathologist concluded that the bruises on Jameek Lowery’s face, fractures to his fingers were the result of “blunt force trauma”

By Richard Cowen

PATERSON, N.J. — Black Lives Matter on Tuesday renewed its call for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the death of Jameek Lowery, the Paterson man who died in an ambulance in 2019 after police forcibly restrained him en route to the hospital.

“The death was not an accident. It was a homicide,” Black Lives Matter organizer Zellie Thomas told a small gathering at the Federal Plaza in Paterson. “Jameek called for help. He did not call to be killed. Or injured.”

Lowery’s father, Chard King, and sister, Jumilyha Lowery, joined the demonstration, which coincided with the airing of a PBS /Frontline documentary on Tuesday night about the often-deadly consequences of police restraint, which featured Jameek’s case.

The Lowery family has long rejected the state Medical Examiner’s conclusion that he died of a cardiac arrest during active psychosis induced by bath salts, a street drug. Instead, they believe the findings of noted pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who they hired to conduct an independent autopsy, which concluded that the bruises on Lowery’s face and fractures to his fingers were the result of “blunt force trauma.”

[PREVIOUSLY: Pathologist claims N.J. in-custody death was homicide inside ambulance]

Although known to the family, Baden’s findings were only recently made public by the Associated Press in a March 29 article about the Frontline documentary.

“Five years the family has been fighting. But what is news to you is not news to them,” Thomas said. The documentary “is a bombshell for the community but not the family.”

As a matter of policy, the U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t confirm or deny investigations. But on Tuesday, a DOJ spokesman said it was aware of the Lowery case.

“While we cannot comment on whether the [ U.S. Attorney’s Office] is investigating a specific matter,” said Matthew Reilly, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, “the office is committed to obtaining and reviewing all relevant evidence regarding potential federal civil rights crimes.”

On Tuesday, representatives from the advocacy groups, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and Faith in New Jersey joined Black Lives Matter and the Lowery family at the demonstration.

“My son has been taken away from us in a way that he should not have been taken,” King said. “This has destroyed a lot of things in our lives.”

Afterward, he broke down in sobs. “A life has been shattered,” he said. “He was my firstborn.”

Lowery, 27, stumbled barefoot into Paterson police headquarters on the morning of Jan. 5, 2019, in a drug-induced paranoia, screaming for help. After doing a Facebook Live video expressing fears that police would kill him, an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital.

[RELATED: Remember 2 Things: Care considerations for ingestion of bath salts]

Paterson police officers struck Lowery several times with their fists as they forcibly strapped him to a gurney and loaded him into the ambulance and on the ride to the hospital, according to the investigation by the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.

Lowery had bruises on his face and was in cardiac arrest when the ambulance arrived at the hospital minutes later. Doctors used CPR to revive him, but he never regained consciousness and died two days later.

[RELATED: Do fire/EMS personnel have a duty to intervene when excessive force is used?]

The State Medical Examiner concluded that Lowery went into cardiac arrest due to an acute intoxication of bath salts and had an underlying, undisclosed medical condition. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office conducted the investigation and cleared the three Paterson police officers and two ambulance workers of wrongdoing.

But Baden’s autopsy found that Lowery was the victim of “blunt force trauma” to the “face, jaw, arms and chest,” which caused cardiac arrest, according to the Associated Press. Baden said there was evidence that Lowery had been choked and concluded his death was a “homicide,” the AP reported.

[RELATED: Preventing in-custody deaths]

“We are appalled that as of today, there has been no meaningful investigation or accountability for Mr. Lowery’s death,” said Yannick Wood, director of the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice’s criminal justice reform program. “No accountability at the local level. ... No accountability at the county level, with no consequences for the medical examiner whose autopsy failed to capture the horror.”

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