The Broward County Medical Examiner’s office says that pepper spray used by Fort Lauderdale police played a part in the death of Raymond Sterling Jr., 21, in police custody last month, the Miami Herald says. Sterling never made it to the hospital. He died in the booking area outside the Fort Lauderdale police station less than an hour after he was placed in a patrol car after his arrest on a traffic stop. He was sprayed after police said he ran from the arresting officers.
An autopsy found that Sterling had a condition known as sickle-cell trait that can cause death under extreme physical exertion. He also had a history of bronchial asthma and had gone to emergency rooms for treatment of the breathing disorder. A study found pepper spray is unlikely to contribute to police-custody deaths “except when the victims are asthmatic.”
“The police officers don’t know the medical history of the people they arrest,” said Fort Lauderdale police spokesman Detective Mike Reed. “We did not know he was asthmatic. He may have been treated differently if the officers had known but he wasn’t wearing a medical bracelet.”