The 32-year-old Los Angeles police officer, who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury during a training exercise in May, was serving as a homeroom teacher when he fell to the ground while holding another police officer in a “bear hug,” according to an autopsy report by the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office County.
The report, provided to The Times on Wednesday, offers the most comprehensive account yet of Officer Houston Tipping’s death and comes after weeks of secrecy by LAPD officials who have declined to divulge details of what happened. The report’s findings contradict claims by Tipping’s mother that her son was beaten by a group of overzealous officers who were trying to “simulate a mob”.
A lawyer representing Tipping’s mother has publicly cited a laceration to Tipping’s head as evidence for her claim. But that injury and the broken ribs Tipping suffered were the result of efforts to save his life, according to the county coroner, who ruled the death an accident.
Details in the autopsy report confirm reports from multiple sources familiar with the incident, who asked not to be known to discuss an ongoing investigation.
These sources, all of whom are members of the department or are aware of the investigation, characterize Tipping’s injury as an accident. However, they also questioned whether adequate safety measures were in place, saying Tipping was not properly certified as an instructor and the room where the training was held was not adequately padded to protect against the type of injury that he suffered.
According to the autopsy, an LAPD sergeant said Tipping was “an instructor in a training session where he engaged a student in a face-to-face bear hug” when the two fell to the ground — which “was a hard mat with not much.” Upholstery.”
The report said it was possible the other officer landed on Tipping. It is not said if Tipping was certified as an instructor.
Multiple sources told the Times that Tipping was the designated attacker in a scenario designed to teach officers how to fend off a suspect who had become combative. They said after Tipping lifted the other officer off the ground, the officer grabbed Tipping in such a way that they both fell to the ground.
“Any person there will say it happened so damn fast no one could even say ‘stop,'” said a source with knowledge of the investigation.
This source also said that another instructor led the exercise and played the role of “suspect” before Tipping stepped in. Multiple sources said Tipping was wearing padded protective gear when the accident occurred.
The sources said the decision by Tipping’s supervisors to allow him to lead a training session that required officers to use force against one another in a poorly padded room made the class far more dangerous than it should have been. Allowing Tipping to teach others appeared to violate statewide training standards and national standards for hands-on tactical training, the sources said.
Ed Obayashi, a Northern California deputy sheriff and an attorney and use of force expert, said that conducting a training course that simulates a physical encounter with a suspect requires specific skills that instructors should learn through formal training.
The seemingly avoidable death of a colleague has left many at the Los Angeles Police Department devastated but also angered, the sources said — especially given conflicting accounts of how it all played out.
Tipping’s mother Shirley Huffman’s dramatic allegations drew national attention. Their lawsuit against the city — often a precursor to a lawsuit — alleged wrongful death, assault and assault, and other civil rights violations.
Part of Huffman’s allegation, brought forward by her attorney, Bradley Gage, had focused on additional injuries Tipping allegedly sustained, including to her head and ribs.
But in the autopsy report, Deputy Medical Examiner Lawrence Nguyen noted that while deaths “at the hands of others” usually count as homicides, there are exceptions for injuries sustained in organized sports or drills, such as boxing matches and soccer games, where “the participants agreed potentially harmful acts must be committed and the associated risks accepted.”
He decided that Tipping’s death was such an exception.
Nguyen noted that a laceration to Tipping’s head came from a clamp used during spinal surgery, and broken ribs appeared to be linked to efforts to resuscitate Tipping.
Gage on Wednesday dismissed the autopsy report as incomplete, saying it had “holes.” He did not name anything specific. He also said he stands by the allegations in the mother’s lawsuit.
After Huffman’s allegations were made public, LAPD chief Michel Moore denied Tipping had been beaten.
Moore said Tipping “did not sustain any type of laceration to the head” as Huffman had claimed and was “not hit or punched during that training session.”
But he gave few details about what happened, other than saying Tipping had “fought” with another officer.
Recently, Moore said he had ordered a “full investigation” by the department’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy, which would not only examine the circumstances surrounding Tipping’s death but also whether the underlying training exercise met statewide standards for training .
The chief said “preliminary reports” showed certified instructors and “additional” instructors were “on site” at the time of Tipping’s injury, but he did not specify what he meant by “on site,” stressing that the investigation still ongoing.
In what little public comment about the incident, the department has not said that Tipping was an instructor.
Moore said he wanted the “clear, unvarnished facts” about what happened before commenting further and would not publicly “debate” those facts based on attempts by other parties to “litigate this in the media.”
“The upshot of all this, of course, is to understand what happened and to make sure an accident like this never happens again,” he said.
Capt. Kelly Muniz, an LAPD spokeswoman, declined to comment on Wednesday’s autopsy, citing the pending litigation.
“It was a hard blow for everyone, but we won’t mention it anymore,” Muniz said.
Mark Geragos, an attorney for Tipping’s father, Richard Tipping, said they were “disturbed by some of the coroner’s statements and the completion of the autopsy” and were conducting their own investigation into the incident.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-27/lax-oversight-contributed-to-lapd-officers-training-death-sources-say Autopsy for LAPD officer rules training death an accident