Jim Rogers case file confirms exclusive 11 Investigates report

PITTSBURGH — 11 Investigates’ exclusive, groundbreaking reporting on Jim Rogers’ death while in police custody has just been confirmed by newly released medical records and court documents obtained exclusively by 11 Investigates.

Chief Investigator Rick Earle obtained the new documents.

The case file is more than 1,000 pages, detailing the death of Jim Rogers, from medical reports to expert witness testimony and investigative reports.

Most of this information 11 Investigates told you about last year while citing multiple sources, but now Earle has obtained the documents confirming his reporting.

The medical reports obtained by 11 Investigates confirm what we first told you months ago, that Jim Rogers had cocaine and marijuana in his system when Officer Keith Edmonds attempted to detain him while investigating a report of a stolen bike in Bloomfield two years ago.

The encounter was captured on police body cam video as well as cell phone video from bystanders.

While Edmonds deployed his taser 10 times, only two of them struck Rogers with the full force, according to the newly released reports.

Edmonds and three other officers were fired for excessive force, violating policies and procedures and failing to get Rogers medical assistance.

Rogers, who was wanted for skipping a drug treatment program after a theft conviction in Cambria County, repeatedly told officers he couldn’t breathe.

Officer Edmonds did not know there was a warrant for Rogers’ arrest, but sources contend that’s why Rogers refused to comply with Edmond’s commands and resisted.

More police eventually arrived and brought Rogers under control.

After searching him, they put him in the back seat of a patrol car.

He sat there complaining that he needed help and couldn’t breathe, but medics who had arrived on scene never checked him out. They did examine Officer Edmonds.

Police eventually drove him to UPMC Mercy, bypassing closer hospitals.

At the time, Pittsburgh police typically took suspects to Mercy because it’s close to the Allegheny County Jail.

Police have now revised that policy and suspects with medical emergencies are required to be taken to the closest hospital.

They’re also required to be examined by medics on scene.

As police drove Rogers to the hospital, he suffered a medical emergency.

Officers thought he had just fallen asleep.

When they arrived at Mercy, Officer Edmonds, who drove in another vehicle, pulled Rogers out and began CPR.

Rogers died the next day.

Even though the medical examiner ruled his death accidental, the city settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the Rogers family for $8 million.

“We believed at the beginning that the officers caused Mr. Rogers’s death,” said Krysia Kubiak, City of Pittsburgh solicitor.

But even before arbitration hearings, the city agreed to reinstate the three other officers with back pay.

“We knew where that was heading. We knew where that was heading,” said Mayor Ed Gainey, implying that the city would not win the cases in arbitration.

But the city continued to fight Edmond’s reinstatement.

The case went to arbitration and Dr. Benjamin D’Souza, a professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who testified for the police union on behalf of Edmonds, said Rogers’ “...cardiovascular system was normal...” and therefore the taser,“…was not the cause of death in this patient.”

The newly released records also confirm that Rogers suffered from seizure disorder but hadn’t been taking his medications.

According to the medical reports, Rogers was a heavy drinker but didn’t have any alcohol in his system at the time of the tasing.

He also suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

In August, two months before the tasing, Rogers went to the hospital for paranoia and hallucinations.

And then in September, he was back in the hospital for alcohol and drug detoxification.

Dr. D’Souza testified that cocaine in his system likely provoked a seizure, causing his death.

He also said it was likely aided by alcohol withdrawal and the absence of seizure medication.

“In summary, the patient’s likely cause of his death was due to seizures in the setting of medication noncompliance and cocaine usage. Cocaine has been shown to lower the seizure threshold in patients with a history of a seizure disorder. The lack of any cardiac pathology on his autopsy and the presenting rhythm of pulseless electrical activity and not ventricular fibrillation again suggest that the application of a Taser did not cause his death. Furthermore, the combination of seizures, medication noncompliance, and cocaine usage were substantial contributing factors to the patient’s death,” wrote D’Souza in his report.

But renowned forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered traumatic brain injuries in football players, testifying for the city called D’Souza’s conclusions,”...ridiculous, laughable...”

Dr. Omalu contends that Rogers died,”...due to restraint asphyxiation in the hands of police...”

Omalu also testified that the tasing contributed to Rogers’ death.

“Multiple and repetitive electrical stimulation and electroshocks within five minutes were substantial and significant causal and contributory factors to Jim Rogers’ eventual irreversible asphyxia brain injury and death as a component of the continuum of neuronal excitotoxic injury caused by electroshock restraint,” wrote Omalu in his report on the case.

He said police restrained him once on the ground and then handcuffed him and placed him in a patrol car with a seat belt, restraining him again.

“This mechanical-positional restraint contributed to the continuum of contiguous and composite police restraints Mr. Rogers suffered from, which contributed to the cumulative injury and outcome of asphyxial brain injury and death,” wrote Omalu.

He said Rogers would still be alive if he hadn’t encountered police.

He said Rogers’ death was not an accident.

“Mr. Rogers was killed,” testified Omalu.

After hearing all of the testimony and evidence, an independent arbitrator sided with the police union and Officer Edmonds and ordered the city to reinstate him with full back pay.

In a strongly-worded decision, the arbitrator said, “The city...was unable to prove that the actions of the grievant...caused the death of Mr. Rogers.”

He wrote it was, “...not supported by the testimony and evidence...”

He also found, “The medical opinion of Dr. D’Souza to be more persuasive....”

And said the city’s own use of force instructor agreed Edmonds’s use of force was,”....reasonable...and was not excessive.”

A grand jury also heard testimony in this case but no officers were ever charged.

Still, the city has appealed Edmonds’ reinstatement.

The mayor said he stands by all of the decisions, from the firings to the $8 million settlement to the appeal of Edmonds.

Earle: He’s been ordered back on the force?

Mayor Ed Gainey: We stand by the decision we made. I mean there’s nothing we can do with the arbitration.

Officer Edmonds remains off the job, pending the city’s appeal to Common Pleas Court.

The city has said they will exhaust every appeal in an effort to keep Edmonds from returning to the force.

The local chapter of the NAACP sent a letter to the national chapter, urging them to ask the Department of Justice to investigate the case.

The NAACP did send a letter requesting an investigation, but there’s been no determination yet if the feds will investigate.

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