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Man Died in Police Custody Due to Drugs, Physical Restraint: Morgue

By Kelly Bauer | September 11, 2015 8:12pm
 A man died while in police custody July 20, according to police. Medical examiners determined he died from cocaine and alcohol toxicity.
Death in police custody
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CHICAGO — A man who died in police custody in July died of cocaine and alcohol poisoning, though physical stress from being restrained by police was a "significant contributing factor," according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

The man was identified as Heriberto Godinez Jr., 24, of the 3000 block of West Pershing Road. While a drug overdose death of this nature is typically ruled an accident, the arresting officers' actions (and several medical unknowns in the case) led medical examiners to rule the cause of death "undetermined."

Officers were responding to a report of burglary at 1:25 a.m. July 20 in the 3000 block of West Pershing Road when they saw the suspected burglar, police said at the time of the incident.

The man was sweating heavily and had labored breathing, according to police. Officers notified paramedics but the man became unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:50 a.m.

Godinez allegedly was agitated and injured himself during and after being apprehended by police, according to a Friday news release from the Cook County Medical Examiner's office. After he was placed in the car, there was a "loud thump" before he was transported anywhere, and he was found face down and unresponsive in the car, according to the office.

"While the factors listed would support a manner of death finding as accidental, the actions of the arresting officers prior to and following the available video footage may also have resulted in physical stress on the body despite the fact that there were no lethal injuries or evidence of asphyxia," according to the Medical Examiner.

They also could not determine if several other medical conditions, including stroke, contributed to the death. "For these reasons, manner of death is best deemed undetermined," the news release said.

A toxicology report on Godinez's body showed cocaine and ethanol toxicity, which the Medical Examiner's office called "the substantial factor in this death."

A July 21 autopsy showed Godinez had superficial injuries, including cuts and bruises, but noted no lethal physical injuries, according to the Medical Examiner's office. Many of his superficial injuries were "compatible with those caused by struggling on a paved surface," according to the office.

X-rays showed no evidence of a broken neck and there were no injuries to Godinez's larynx, though the man's "neck felt a bit loose," according to the office.

Godinez's brain was swollen and showed changes "commonly seen when the brain is deprived of oxygen for any reason," according to the office. He did not have skull fractures, intracranial bleeding or cerebral contusions, according to the office.

Part of the autopsy was performed with a consultant for Godinez's family as an observer, according to the news release.

Godinez's family members could not be reached for comment Friday night.

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