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A teacher tased by the LAPD died of an enlarged heart and cocaine use, coroner says

Lawyers Benjamin Crump, left, and Carl Douglas, right, held a news conference in January to announce their filing of a $50 million claim against the city of Los Angeles over the death of Keenan Anderson, who is pictured on posters.
Damian Dovarganes
Lawyers Benjamin Crump, left, and Carl Douglas, right, held a news conference in January to announce their filing of a $50 million claim against the city of Los Angeles over the death of Keenan Anderson, who is pictured on posters.

Keenan Anderson, a Black man who was repeatedly tased by police officers following a January traffic collision, died from the effects of an enlarged heart and cocaine use, the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner said.

Anderson, a 31-year-old high school teacher and father from Washington, D.C., was also the cousin of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors.

The coroner determined his cause of death "hours after restraint and conducted energy device [CED] use,'" the department said in a news release on Friday.

Body camera footage captured the moments leading up to Anderson's death

On Jan. 3, Anderson was trying to get help after a car crash in Venice, Calif., when he was chased, held down by multiple officers and tased for over 90 seconds. He'd been in California visiting family.

Anderson was the suspect in a hit-and-run crash when he was stopped by police. He later ran from officers and resisted arrest, police said.

The responding officer observed Anderson "running in the middle of the street and exhibiting erratic behavior," according to a police account released alongside edited body camera footage of the incident.

Footage showed Anderson complying with orders to sit as the officer requests backup to conduct a DUI test. The seven minutes during which the officer waited for backup were not included in released footage.

Video picks up again when Anderson is seen standing up again. He says he needs water and wants to make sure people can see him. Anderson then bolts on foot from officers, who pursue and restrain him. One officer appears to put his elbow across Anderson's neck.

"Please, please, please, please, please," Anderson yells. "They're trying to George Floyd me," he says.

An officer uses a Taser on Anderson at least six times, at one point deploying the stun gun for about 30 seconds uninterrupted.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore later said that only a "single Taser activation" had occurred followed by what he believed were several ineffective "dry stun" attempts.

Minutes after Anderson was subdued, fire department personnel treated him, at which point Anderson became unconscious with labored breathing, the medical examiner's office said.

Anderson died a few hours later at a hospital. His death was one of three officer-involved deaths occurring in Los Angeles in the first three days of 2023.

Lawyers for Anderson's 5-year-old son filed a $50 million claim against the city of Los Angeles over the incident. The damages claim, alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations, has been denied, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Carl Douglas, an attorney for Anderson's family, said in a statement emailed to NPR on Saturday that the coroner's findings will not change their plans to sue the city.

"An unarmed Black man, in obvious mental distress was savagely attacked and repeatedly tased, in clear violation of LAPD policy, by several trained officers, and the innocent life of a little five-year-old boy will be forever changed as a result," the statement read.

Questions remain about how Anderson died

The manner of death was not determined, the coroner's report said.

"My cousin was alive when he flagged the police. And after his interaction with the police, he was dead," Cullors said in a video post shared on Instagram. "This idea that the coroner is unable to determine how he died is unacceptable. And to point to the substances and point to the enlarged heart and not to the tasers is very, very disturbing."

According to the coroner's office, a manner of death is certified as undetermined when "there is inadequate information regarding the circumstances of death to determine manner" or when "known information equally supports or conflicts with more than one manner of death or, in cases of unnatural death, when a clear preponderance of evidence supporting a specific manner (homicide, accident, or suicide) is not available." NPR has reached out to the coroner for more information.

Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement after the release of the medical examiner report that she remained committed to expanding the public safety system to include health professionals and to ensuring LAPD officers get proper training to assist people in crisis.

"The coroner raises questions that still must be answered and I await the result of the investigation already underway," she said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.