4/20/2004 Newsletter


  • Analysis of Death of Walter C. Burks at Hands of Minneapolis Police

An Analysis of Minneapolis Police Department Actions

Contact: Michelle Gross, 612-703-1612

Communities United Against Police Brutality has released a comprehensive analysis of the case of Walter C. Burks, who died during an encounter with Minneapolis police on August 6, 2003. This thorough, indepth case study is based on a painstaking review of original source documents from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office investigation, 911 tapes, police statements, and other records that were obtained through Minnesota Data Practices Act requests.

"We wanted to take an indepth look at a death in custody, to see if we could understand ways to prevent future deaths," stated Chris Coen, CUAPB board member and researcher. He added, "We chose to focus on a case that received minimal press and public attention, with an eye to spotting police policies and practices that contributed to this death and that can be changed."

The Burks case is the tragic death of a man in the throes of a medical crisis. While there is no doubt that Mr. Burks had used cocaine and had underlying medical conditions and these factors undoubtedly contributed to his death, police actions also played a significant role. "By failing to treat the incident as a medical crisis, police turned a bad situation into a deadly situation," stated Bryce Williams, CUAPB President.

Findings in the analysis include:

*Burks was placed in a prone (face down) position in the police car, with his hands cuffed behind his back and his legs bent at the knees, shins against the car door. While not hogtied, this position closely mimics the physiological effects of hogtying and is either discouraged or outright banned by a number of police departments around the country, especially in combination with the use of chemical irritants such as pepper spray. Burks remained in this position approximately 27 minutes, including 17 to 18 minutes while an officer went back into the store to interview witnesses.

*Police officers, including one officer trained as a crisis intervention specialist, failed to recognize Burks' profuse sweating, incoherent mumbling and inability to follow commands as possible medical symptoms and failed to recognize the incident as a medical crisis.

*Officers failed to provide first aid for pepper spray, as required by Minneapolis Police Department policy and failed to inform medical personnel at the hospital that Burks had been pepper sprayed.

Communities United Against Police Brutality
2104 Stevens Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)

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