GRETNA, LA (WVUE) - On Thursday (May 25), the Gretna Police Department released convenience store surveillance video of officers struggling with a man who died two days later. Police initially seized the store's hard drive containing the video, saying it would be released when their internal investigation was complete.
(Editor's Note: The video in this story was edited to show the least obstructed views of the incident)
The confrontation with Kendole Joseph, a paranoid schizophrenic, lasted seven minutes. The video shows Joseph being tased, punched and kicked, all in an effort to bring the combative and agitated man under control, according to a news release from Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson.
Police said multiple witnesses called 911 on Feb. 7 to report a man acting erratically in the city and in parts of Jefferson Parish on Manhattan Boulevard. Gretna officers confronted Joseph at the corner of Gretna Boulevard and Claire Street around 1:30 p.m. after someone working at a nearby school alerted authorities.
"The individual involved took off running. Our officers gave chase. (Joseph) ran inside of a convenience store and jumped over the counter. There was a struggle between the officers when trying to subdue him that lasted about seven minutes," Lawson said on April 13.
After he was subdued, Joseph was placed in the back of a police car, sitting upright. A short time later, an officer noticed that he was slumped over and unconscious, according to the police report. Emergency crews already on the scene performed CPR on Joseph and rushed him to Oschner Medical Center, where he died Feb. 9.
The Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office released its findings on May 24, saying that Joseph died as a result of "acute psychosis exacerbated by diphenhydramine toxicity in the setting of schizophrenia while in police custody." Testing revealed an sharply elevated level of Benadryl in Joseph's system - more than 40 times the normal amount of a 50 mg dose.
"There is evidence of progressing agitation and psychosis for at least 2 hours 45 minutes on the day of his death, which included running/walking over approximately 5 miles. The following 7-minute police apprehension of Mr. Joseph included 2 discharges of conducted electrical weapon which contacted his lower back as well as physical restraint," said coroner spokesman Mark Bone.
The coroner said the death is classified as undetermined due to contributing roles of psychosis and the ingestion of Benadryl.
This was not Joseph's first encounter with police. On June 28, 2016, police responded to a 911 call made by Joseph's mother, who said that her son was off his medication and acting out. When officers arrived, they found Joseph banging on apartment doors and screaming for help, telling the officers "You not the real police," according to Gretna PD. At one point, Joseph grabbed his mother so hard that she told him he was hurting her and she couldn't breathe. Joseph was eventually tased and taken into custody.
The family said the tasing in that incident caused Joseph to be forced to go on dialysis.
Lawson said his investigation of the February incident showed that officers responded with a much lower level of force than could have been justified under the circumstances. He said the close confines of the confrontation and the proximity of weapons or items that Joseph could have used as weapons made the encounter a potentially deadly one for his officers.
Late Thursday, Joseph's family, through a spokesman and an attorney, released the following statement:
"We just watched Kendole Joseph being beaten and murdered on the surveillance footage released today. Kendole Joseph was unarmed, and he told the cashier "Help, they're going to kill me" and they DID! We are appalled that they did not allow the family to see this gruesome video before the media released it which shows the inhumanity and indifference of the Gretna Police department.
"His family is hurt by this video because it proves what they already knew and they will be willing to speak tomorrow. Kendole did not commit a crime or was NOT suspected of a crime and they continued to overpower and beat him after they had him subdued."
The family will hold a news conference Friday (May 26).