Thursday 23rd March 2023

Kentucky man dies in police custody, family seeks answers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The death of a Kentucky man while in police custody has prompted a state police investigation, and family members are questioning why officers apparently didn’t give him medical attention at the scene.

Clarence Wilkerson died while in police custody on March 2 after he was detained by Ashland police officers, Kentucky State Police said. Police were serving a warrant to Wilkerson, who is Black. Police have not yet said what the warrant was for.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner said Wilkerson’s death was “possibly related to preexisting medical ailments” and not a “traumatic event,” according to a release from state police. Family members said Wilkerson, 34, had a heart condition.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who Wilkerson’s family has hired, asked for the police department to release footage related to the incident.

The requested investigation does not necessarily mean the death occurred under suspicious circumstances, as Kentucky police departments often request state police investigations into similar cases, including officer-involved shootings.

The Ashland Police Department is referring all requests for more information to the Kentucky State Police. A message was left with state police seeking more information.

While police have not yet released footage, a video shot by a bystander and posted to YouTube earlier this week apparently shows who Crump said is Wilkerson handcuffed behind his back and sitting on the ground with four Ashland police officers around him. One of the officers said he told the man on the ground he had a warrant for his arrest and the man ran away.

A woman filming the video repeatedly said the man looks pale and is “passing out.”

Wilkerson is only seen in the first approximately 90 seconds of the video, but he can be heard saying he “can’t breathe.” He appears unstable as officers helped him to his feet and led him to a police cruiser. The video then shows the man is put in the cruiser and driven away.

Wilkerson died later at a hospital. Crump said Wilkerson’s death was preventable, but “officers did not take his clearly declining condition seriously.”

Wilkerson’s mother, Sherri Ford, told the Daily Independent newspaper her son had a heart condition that required a catheter when he was in his late 20s.

Dozens of friends and family members held a vigil for Wilkerson in Ashland on Tuesday.

Ashland Police said the officers were placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated. State police said the investigation of Wilkerson’s death is ongoing.