Gurbir Grewal

‘I'm Gonna Die, Help': Video Shows Last Moments of Man's Life in Trenton Police Custody

Officers were seen on video handcuffing, holding down and punching Stephen Dolceamore while he was face down on the ground and shouting

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Police body-worn camera videos released by the New Jersey Attorney General's office this week show the last moments of a Delaware County man's life in Trenton Police custody.

Stephen Dolceamore, 29, of Media, Delaware County, died April 3 outside a hospital in the New Jersey capital city. Much of the footage released shows him face down in a dirt strip in the hospital parking lot.

Trenton officers alternate holding on his legs, grabbing for his hands to cuff him and holding his head and neck, the videos show. A cop kneels on Dolceamore's neck for about one second in the video; at other points, an officer kneels on Dolceamore's shirtless lower back. One officer is seen punching Dolceamore in the side as police struggle to put handcuffs on him.

Then Dolceamore goes still and silent, the videos show. Over the next few minutes, officers tell him to "wake up," and say that "he's turning purple." Eventually the police begin chest compressions, administer naloxone and radio for medical assistance multiple times.

The three videos cut out not long after a person in scrubs and a lab coat arrives and continues chest compressions.

In a press statement after the videos were released, city Police Director Sheilah Coley pledged that the department would "continue to expand its efforts to be more accountable to the community we serve," including reviewing more citizen complaints.

"Today, more Trenton Police Officers are equipped with body cameras than ever before," Coley said. "In addition, we’re starting to train officers in techniques for restraining suspects that don’t require the use of physical force. TPD officers are contending with a simultaneous uptick in crime and a greater demand for accountability. I’m confident that my officers can – and will – meet that challenge. Trenton residents deserve nothing less."

No criminal charges have been filed. An investigation is ongoing.

Several facts were still unclear this week. The videos that were released don't show the entire encounter with police. According to a news release, police chased Dolceamore on foot after hearing a report of a man behaving erratically and walking into traffic. That foot chase is not captured in the three videos released.

It's also not publicly known how he died. The autopsy report, which would include the cause of Dolceamore's death, is not being released "because of the ongoing investigation," the Attorney General's office told NBC10.

The autopsy report was completed July 21, and "additional investigative steps were taken" afterward, the attorney general's statement says.

On Thursday, investigators met with Dolceamore's family to review the autopsy report and video recordings from the body cameras, the statement says.

Dolceamore said "I can't breathe," and called out for "help" multiple times as officers restrained him, the video shows. He was on his hands and knees as officers told him multiple times to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back.

"Give us your hands and stop," an officer says. "Give us your hands, big guy."

"Spray him," an officer says when Dolceamore won't give them his hands. A container of what appears to be pepper spray is visible as multiple cops hold Dolceamore. An officer is heard later saying that they sprayed him. NBC10 has not confirmed what the substance was.

In one portion of the videos, while an officer's hand is seen on Dolceamore's head and neck, he says they're "trying to crush my skull." He still is not cuffed at this point, and about 20 seconds later an officer begins punching him in the side. He submits to the handcuffs after that.

Then the officers begin talking about getting him in a transport vehicle. "What did you take today?" one cop asks, seemingly referring to drugs.

Officers continued to kneel on Dolceamore's lower back after the cuffs were on. "Can't breathe," he says. "I'm gonna die, help."

Officers again mentioned calling for a transport vehicle. One officer switches off with another who begins kneeling on Dolceamore. His voice begins to fade before he goes quiet.

Then a cop lets out an expletive. They begin talking about whether Dolceamore still has a pulse and then scramble to get naloxone. Then they radio it in as a possible overdose before trying to revive him.

An officer trying to contact emergency medical responders remarks multiple times about whether he was being heard on the radio.

The AG's office said it was releasing the videos because of a directive that requires records in police-use-of-force cases to be released to the public if requested "once the initial phase of the investigation is substantially complete."

A report in The Trentonian newspaper says it filed a public records lawsuit seeking the videos, 911 call recordings, and other documents.

The AG's office investigates all fatal police encounters and deaths in police custody, and has not finished with this case yet.

The findings will be brought to a grand jury, which would decide whether criminal charges will be filed, the attorney general's office says. Grand juries are currently not hearing cases because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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