Team 10: Police body cam video is key evidence in wrongful death case of El Centro man

Family claims officers refused to get medical help

EL CENTRO, Calif. - "It was like they stuck a knife through my heart," said Laverne Sampson after learning an El Centro police officer had canceled paramedics after family members called 911.

"He was in pain, you could tell something was wrong," said Charlie Sampson's wife of 40 years, recalling the December night in 2013 that her husband died in police custody.

Sampson has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against El Centro Police, claiming they showed negligence and deliberate indifference the night they pulled her husband over for rolling through a stop sign.

A federal judge this week lifted the embargo on showing police body cam and dashboard video in Sampson's case. Team 10 obtained portions of the video from Sampson's attorney.


Legal documents filed in the case indicate Sampson was put in the back of a police cruiser after the officer that pulled him over discovered a rifle and a meth pipe in his car.

Sampson, who was not handcuffed, is recorded on the cruiser's dashboard camera. According to the complaint against El Centro Police, Sampson is seen putting something in his mouth. Court documents say the medical examiner later said it was methamphetamine.

Sampson began fanning himself, and asking an officer to turn on the air conditioner, even though it was a chilly evening. He appeared to be sweating profusely as an officer questioned him about the presence of drugs in Sampson's home.

Sampson said there weren't any. 

Officers brought a narcotics-sniffing dog to the Sampson's home and are heard on video telling Sampson that the dog had alerted to drugs on the premises.

The court filing claims the CHP K-9 officer said the dog didn't find drugs, but the officer continued to demand Sampson identify the location of the drugs. The officer told Sampson they would "tear up the house" and if they found drugs in any common areas, Sampson's wife and son would also be arrested.

Laverne Sampson told Team 10 she was shocked at her husband's condition.

"We begged and begged and begged and asked for help and they didn't do anything," Sampson said of the officers. 

Two family members called for help, but one of the officers called dispatch and told them that no paramedics were needed.

Officers are heard in the videos saying Sampson was "nervous", and "faking it" so he wouldn't have to go to jail.

An officer was ordered to take Sampson to jail, but decided to go to the hospital instead. Sampson was pronounced dead on arrival.

Laverne Sampson had tears in her eyes as she recalled the pain her family suffered that night.

 “It’s like they took everything," she said. " He was my husband. He was someone’s father, grandfather, brother. He was somebody. They had no reason to deny him medical attention the way that they did."

Sampson's attorney called what happened an outrage, and said he was amazed when he saw the body cam video for the first time.

Christopher Morris said this case is a good example of why transparency is needed in cases involving police body camera video.

“If there had been no cams in this case, this case would have been swept under the rug," said Morris. "It would have just been a poor in-custody guy who took drugs. In this case, when you see exactly what happened, it's troubling, and it never would have been brought to light if we didn’t have the body cam video."

The Sampson family is asking for an unspecified amount in damages. 

The case goes to trial in May 2016.

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