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Did Phoenix officers violate restraint policy before in-custody death?

Ramon Lopez death
Posted at 9:09 PM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 00:14:42-04

PHOENIX — The ABC15 Investigators are learning officers used a controversial restraint method on a Maryvale man before he died in their custody this month.

The autopsy is still pending for 28-year-old Ramon Timothy Lopez, so his cause of death is still unknown.

After police arrested Lopez near 51st Avenue and Indian School Road, he was placed in leg restraints that were then hooked to handcuffs behind his back. The technique called hobbling or sometimes hogtying.

The ABC15 Investigators learned that Phoenix Police Operation Order 7.1, posted on their website, said, “Officers will minimize facedown exposure of the prisoner" in these restraints, and they "should place prisoners in an upright position on their side or back."

Police body cam video shows Lopez was facedown for a couple of minutes on the street in the restraints, then officers moved him to the back of a police cruiser where he was facedown for a couple more minutes. When officers moved the vehicle to a nearby parking lot, they found Lopez non-responsive.

“I don’t know why he wasn't placed at a different angle,” said Marc Victor, a Valley attorney who often represents plaintiffs in police use-of-force cases. “When police take a citizen into their custody, they absolutely have the obligation to protect for that person’s health and safety.”

Leaving a suspect face down in a hobble restraint has been linked to other in-custody deaths nationwide. The concern is positional asphyxia, which is where someone physically can’t move enough to get sufficient oxygen into the lungs.

It’s unclear what, if any effect, the hobble restraint had on Lopez.

Phoenix police say several other Arizona departments also use various types of leg restraints. The department is conducting an internal investigation into what happened to Ramon, and a spokeswoman said any potential policy violations would be part of that review.