BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Law enforcement officers will not be criminally charged in the death of a Black man who became unresponsive and died after being restrained on the ground, but the response was "cause for serious concern,” the state attorney general's office said Friday.
Troy Hodge, 39, died in June 2019 after being restrained by Lockport police and Niagara County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to a call from his mother that he was not himself and was experiencing an issue with his medicine.
Officers responding to the call found Hodge in his mother's Lockport driveway, where he told them that "people were after him and he needed to get his shotgun," a 72-page report from the attorney general's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit said.
As police moved to prevent him from entering his home, Hodge grabbed an officer in a headlock and moved a knife toward her head. Officers dislodged the knife and after a struggle, restrained and handcuffed Hodge on the ground.
With several officers holding him, Hodge can be heard on police body camera and cellphone video moaning and saying “Don't let them kill me” and “Don't kill me” before falling silent and unresponsive after a few minutes.
An ambulance crew at the scene was unable to revive him and he was pronounced dead at a hospital. Hodge had a history of substance abuse after being prescribed opioids following a motor vehicle accident, according to the report. The investigation did not mention if Hodge had a history of mental illness.
The medical examiner said Hodge experienced “sudden death associated with acute cocaine intoxication and prolonged physical altercation.” The death was classified as a homicide because officers physically interacted with Hodge, but the medical examiner said that did not imply they intended to cause injury or used excessive force.
“I extend my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Troy Hodge,” Attorney General Letitia James said in releasing the report. “We engaged in an extensive and complete review of the facts in this case and determined that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that a crime had been committed. However, the actions of some of the officers raised serious concerns and should not go unaddressed."
Hodge's mother, Fatima Hodge, did not immediately respond to a telephone message, but her attorney said the officers should have faced criminal charges.
“The conduct of the first two officers to arrive created the circumstances that resulted in the police killing Troy, because they escalated in their use of force unnecessarily and quickly moved to using excessive force when responding to a medical call from Troy’s mother,” Joseph Morath Jr. said in a statement to the Buffalo News. “Troy was committing no crime and had done nothing wrong.”
Investigators said the officers failed to recognize a medical condition known as excited delirium, a collection of symptoms which can increase the risk of sudden death in someone being restrained.
Hodge was sweating profusely, speaking incoherently and seemed resistant to pain as officers, “startled by his strength,” struggled to control him, all pointing to the condition, according to the report. After a few minutes he stopped moving. Officers thought he had fallen asleep, but he had gone into cardiac arrest, the report said.
“Not one responding officer had been trained to recognize that individuals displaying the unique combination of features Mr. Hodge displayed are disproportionality vulnerable to cardiac arrest and sudden death during restraint," the report said.
Investigators recommended training for officers on identifying excited delirium and treating it as a medical emergency. It also advised Lockport police to ban chokeholds or other maneuvers that hinder a person's breathing or blood circulation.
The report also found that “dueling 911 systems” operated by the city police and county sheriff caused confusion that delayed the arrival of paramedics to treat Hodge. It recommended that the Lockport Police close its 911 call center and allow Niagara County to take over dispatching.
“Although we cannot know whether these recommendations could have saved Mr. Hodge’s life if they had been implemented before this incident, they can reduce the likelihood that similar tragedies might occur in the future,” the report said.
Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti said he was reviewing the report. He said the department already has made changes to train officers to recognize people at risk of death because of excited delirium.
“That training has been ongoing and there’s more deputies and officers throughout the county scheduled for the (crisis intervention) training that would have that component in it,” he said.
Lockport police officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.