FORT LAUDERDALE — At least five deputies and firefighters laid on top of hog-tying victim Oral Brown while restraining him after his one-vehicle accident in 2001, according to a statement taken from a Broward Sheriff’s deputy shortly after the man’s death.
The statement, which is not included in the 19-page homicide report compiled by lead detective Glenn Bukata, could raise new questions about the cause of Brown’s death, which is the subject of a pending lawsuit filed by his family.
The autopsy report says Brown died from positional asphyxia, or suffocation, due to the way he was hog-tied, but that his death was accidental.
In that report Dr. Linda Rush-O’Neil, the pathologist who performed the autopsy, describes in highly technical terms the presence of a condition known as “petechial hemorrhaging” or ruptured blood vessels in the eyes, but does not offer any explanation as to what caused it.
Some eyewitnesses have said first responders beat and placed Brown in a chokehold while kicking his feet out from under him. Experts say petechial hemorrhaging is one of the first indications of possible strangulation.
Brown, a Lauderdale Lakes businessman, died after being restrained and hog-tied by first responders dispatched to the scene of his accident at the Swap Shop flea market in 2001in Fort Lauderdale. He was forcibly restrained, hog-tied and strapped face down onto a stretcher after crawling out of his overturned SUV. He was pronounced dead at a hospital hospital.
A homicide investigation was opened after emergency room personnel called police to report that Brown was wheeled into the emergency room still hog-tied, covered in his body fluids and without a pulse.
According to official documents uncovered during an investigation, Broward Sheriff’s Office homicide detective Eli Thomasevich took a sworn statement from Deputy Leonard Smith at the hospital about what took place.
Thomasevich: “Okay. Now when he was on the ground, when the subject was on the ground being cuffed, was anybody on his back area or in other words any weight being put on his chest that you can recall?”
Smith: “Yes, ahm, Sergeant, ahm, Detective Autenrieb, the paramedic, Deputy Dowe was on the left side and I was on the lower right side.”
Thomasevich: “Okay, so you guys are basically on top of him?”
Smith’s account of five people being on top of Brown could be critical because petechial hemorrhaging can also be caused by what is known as “burking asphyxia” or death by smothering.
The term “burking” got its name from William Burke, an 18th century serial killer, who along with his partner William Hare, murdered 17 people between November 1827 and December 1828 in Edinburgh, Scotland. They killed their victims by lying on top of them and smothering them. That method did not leave any signs of injury or trauma and they sold the corpses to medical schools.
The Brown autopsy lists him as 6-foot-3, weighing 324 pounds and obese. Burking asphyxia can occur within minutes, particularly in an overweight individual when others lie on top of them. However, experts say a number of other factors would have to be known to determine if this might have contributed to his death.
“Burking is also known as compressional asphyxia. Multiple officers on the back of an obese individual can easily restrict his breathing but in order to adequately analyze what component (if any) the weight on his back played in his death, a forensic pathologist would need to know the weight of each officer and whether they were putting their full weight on the victim or just restraining his extremities,” said Dr. Judy Melinek, a board-certified forensic pathologist in San Francisco.
“The pathologist would also need to cut down on the muscles of the back to look for the tell-tale hemorrhages that confirm the application of significant force,” Melinek added.
“If the victim is still breathing after being released from restraint, then the cause of death is unlikely to be compression alone, though restraint and compression may play a contributory role in a death from agitated delirium or acute drug intoxication.”
In his statement, Smith said Brown “kept trying to move his arms away from us so he can continue going on about his business, ahm, he wasn’t fighting us frantically but he was resisting with a little force.”
A grand jury determined first responders made errors in their handling of Brown but it agreed with the autopsy finding that his death was accidental.
None of the first responders faced any criminal charges and none were disciplined.
Brown’s family filed medical malpractice and civil rights lawsuits over his death. The cases are pending in the courts.
*Pictured above is the late Oral Brown.
Related Articles About the Hog-Tying Death of Oral Brown: