WARNING: The video attached to this report is graphic.
AVONDALE — The ABC15 investigators have obtained body camera video from an in-custody death in Avondale last year that was not reported to the public.
James Holland Sr. died on July 10, 2021.
ABC15 has learned that legal action from the family is imminent, and attorneys already filed a pre-lawsuit settlement demand in late December.
“Since this is a pending matter, the City will not be providing a comment at this time,” according to an email from an Avondale police spokesperson.
The department didn’t answer ABC15’s questions about whether the department notified the public about the death, results of any internal investigations, or if incident prompted any changes in policy or training.
The never-before-seen body camera footage shows officers repeatedly used a Taser on Holland, who had methamphetamine in his system, before he stopped breathing and lost consciousness.
Police were called by a passerby who reported that Holland — dressed only in underwear and shoes — was incoherently and awkwardly stumbling in the middle of Van Buren Street near 110th Avenue around 2:15 a.m.
While the video highlights the difficult situations that police officers sometimes face, experts said the incident reveals there are likely training and policy deficiencies within the department.
“I do believe their de-escalation techniques need to be addressed, which would be an agency thing,” said Brian Higgins, a former police chief and current professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who agreed to watch the body camera footage. “Maybe there’s a staffing issue where more cops should have showed up. Or more options for less than lethal. You know there are more options out there than just pepper spray, gun and Taser.”
In a pre-lawsuit settlement demand sent by Holland’s family, their attorney also alleged that the death was a result of poor training and police policies.
“(Holland) was unarmed and gave no indication that he was going to threaten or injure the officers or the public,” according to the settlement demand. “There simply was no imminent threat of lethal or non-lethal harm to the officers when they tased and asphyxiated James, Sr. to death.”
A responding officer said that Holland charged at him during the incident. Video shows Holland made a move at the officer after a Taser was used on him.
But Higgins doesn’t believe the officers were ever in serious danger and that they may have overreacted and hyped the threat as Holland lacked almost any sense of coordination.
“He contorted his body in ways that almost made it look as if he was on strings at times,” he said.
The county's medical examiner report classified the death as a homicide. The cause: "Cardiac arrest in the setting of methamphetamine intoxication, dilated cardiomyopathy, physical exertion, and law enforcement subdual."
Officers attempted to use a Taser on Holland at least 10 times, video shows.
Many of the attempted stuns connected, raising further concerns about the danger of repeated Taser use.
In Taser International’s product information, it clearly warns about “repeated, continuous, and simultaneous exposures.” The company’s material also warns against shocking people in states of psychosis or excited delirium.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office cleared officers of criminal wrongdoing in the case, according to an online database of in-custody police deaths.
Holland’s family declined a request for comment.
Their attorneys, Ben Taylor and Larry Wulkan, sent ABC15 a written statement saying, “James was a loving father, husband, son, and friend. James’ tragic death has left a hole in his parents, wife, and children’s hearts.”
Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.