Los Angeles, CA – The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office has determined the neck injuries that caused the death of 32-year-old Los Angeles Police Officer Houston Tipping during a training session in May were accidental, despite claims from the officer’s mother that he was beaten to death during an exercise intended to “simulate a mob.”
According to an autopsy report, Officer Tipping was acting as an instructor during an exercise at the Elysian Park Academy on May 26 and was holding another officer in a “face-to-face bear hug” when the injuries occurred, KTLA reported.
Officer Tipping and the student both fell during the grappling exercise, resulting in Officer Tipping being “brought down on his head” onto a mat that did not have much padding, according to the report.
The student also possibly landed on him, KTLA reported.
A police sergeant who was at the training said Officer Tipping was heard breathing for several seconds after the impact and that he then began gasping for air, CBS News reported.
He stopped breathing shortly thereafter.
Additional officers immediately began CPR until emergency medical personnel arrived at the scene, CBS News reported.
Officer Tipping was resuscitated after three minutes and was rushed to L.A. County-USC Medical Center in Boyle Heights, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Doctors determined he suffered a spinal cord injury and a fractured neck, according to the report.
They fused his spine and took multiple CT scans, but the young officer had developed an anoxic brain injury due to a lack of oxygen, CBS News reported.
Doctors declared the five-year department veteran brain dead on May 28, and Officer Tipping passed away on May 29 after organ donation.
According to the report, his death was ruled an accident caused by “brain death secondary to anoxic brain injury,” KTLA reported.
Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Lawrence Nguyen said Officer Tipping did have a laceration to the left side of his scalp, which he noted was caused by the use of a c-clamp during a spinal surgery, CBS News reported.
Nguyen said the officer also suffered fractured ribs, but that those injuries were caused by a LUCAS device, which “provides mechanical chest compressions and has been known to cause rib fractures and liver lacerations,” according to the report.
“The manner of death was carefully considered and weighed between homicide and accident,” the medical examiner wrote. “While deaths ‘at the hands of another’ are typically deemed homicides, there are exceptions that are deemed accidents.”
Examples of such exceptions include football players who suffer broken necks during tackles or boxing deaths, CBS News reported.
“These deaths occur during organized sports or organized exercises in which the participants are consensual to committing potentially harmful acts and accept inherent risks,” Nguyen said. “Therefore, I have deemed the manner of death in this case to be an accident.”
Officer Tipping was laid to rest on June 22 during a large ceremony attended by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Michel Moore, and other LAPD leaders, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Two days later, Shirley Huffman, the officer’s mother, filed a notice of claim against the city.
Such claims are generally precursors to lawsuits.
Huffman’s claim alleged her son was severely beaten during a training exercise intended to “simulate a mob,” and that he was “repeatedly struck in the head severely enough that he bled,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
In addition to needing stitches for the lacerations he suffered, Officer Tipping’s neck was also broken in multiple places, according to the claim.
Huffman said her son died as a result of those breaks.
She said other officers had been hurt during the same training module in the past and that the exercise “had already been questioned” due to those concerns, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Her attorney, Bradley Gage, said he does not believe the fatal incident was an accident, CBS News reported.
“Why was Houston Tipping picked up and slammed onto his head?” Gage asked. “That can’t be part of any type of training because it’s so dangerous.”
He said the facility also should have utilized more mats to “protect from serious injuries,” CBS News reported.
He and Huffman maintain that Officer Tipping was beaten to death.
“Police are… to help protect and serve us all,” Gage told CBS News. “We certainly don’t want to see a police officer needlessly injured or in this case killed.”
“It is inconceivable that there would be a simple wrestling match that would lead to head injury, multiple broken neck bones, liver damage, three broken ribs,” he told the Associated Press. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
“We know of certain people that witnessed the autopsy,” he added, according to CBS News. “We know some witnesses to the events and that there are photographs. We are going to be seeking the rest of the information that was missing from what we received today from the autopsy. Then after that, we file a lawsuit.”
Huffman’s claim alleged assault and battery, wrongful death, and other civil rights violations, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Chief Moore stated that Officer Tipping impressed his peers with a ‘willingness to go the extra mile to make the world a better place,’” Huffman’s claim stated. “Yet, that wasn’t enough to avoid other officers paralyzing him and eventually killing him in violation of law, and his civil rights.”
She will be seeking punitive damages, as well as unspecified financial compensation.