The death of Justin Perkins at a local hospital last week didn’t make headlines at the time, despite him having sustained injuries following an altercation with Anaheim police in late October. Few details are available regarding the circumstances of the incident. But the family of the deceased 38-year-old Anaheim resident has retained legal representation in the search for answers.
According to the Anaheim Police Department, officers arrived at the Madison Park apartment complex on the morning of Oct. 27 after receiving word that a man appearing to be under the influence of narcotics allegedly assaulted another man who worked at the property. The department cited “preliminary information” in a press release later that day stating another physical altercation occurred when officers attempted to arrest Perkins.
Police made an emergency call for backup and Perkins went into full cardiac arrest minutes after being taken into custody. Paramedics arrived to transport him to a nearby hospital where he was listed in critical condition. Two Anaheim police officers also suffered injuries described as “serious” and were taken to the emergency room following the altercation. The story died after that.
“There are, of course, a lot of questions that need to be answered,” says DeWitt Lacy, an attorney with the Law Office of John Burris. “What we were told by witnesses is that the officers acted very brutally towards Justin, who did not act violently against them, and that Justin was struck several times in his head with batons, which by any law enforcement standard is a use of deadly force.”
Lacy is representing Perkins’ mother and plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the family. At this time, the names of the officers involved are unknown–the Weekly filed a public records request with the city to obtain them. The police department also couldn’t provide information related to the injuries sustained by the officers, citing health privacy law.
“There was an officer who complained about being bitten during the struggle,” Lacy says, noting witnesses his firm has spoken to. “I don’t know if that happened. What we can say is that both of the officers who reportedly suffered serious injuries had been taken to the hospital. They were also released shortly after that.”
The same can’t be said for Perkins, who died on Oct. 31. Lacy alleges that Perkins covered his head with his hands to defend against batons swing and punches. “We believe that these officers utilized a choke hold, which ultimately led to the death of Justin Perkins,” he adds. “If there was a confrontation, we believe the officers should’ve utilized deescalation training.”
As Lacy awaits an autopsy report, the attorney claims that Perkins’ internal organs suffered severely due to a lack of oxygen. The firm also doesn’t have a toxicology report but Lacy states that medical staff only found trace amounts of marijuana in his system during attempts to revive him. “There’s no indication that Justin had any kind meth, cocaine or opioid in his system,” he says.
Officers at the scene wore body cameras that were activated, according to the police department. The footage may be an important piece of evidence as the Orange County District Attorney’s office investigates the in-custody death. The probe joins other similar cases in Anaheim this year. In March, Christopher Eisinger, a homeless man, was pulled off life support following an altercation with police. A few months later in June, an unidentified homeless man acting erratically died after officers attempted to arrest him.
Perkins is remembered by family members as a kind and loving person not known to be confrontational. They’re raising funds online to cover funeral and burial expenses, but also to raise awareness about mental health. Perkins is described to have been a person with developmental disabilities who lived with his uncle at the time of his death.
“The family deserves answers and wants answers,” Lacy says. “When police abuse is allowed to run rampant, people get hurt and sometimes they even die. Unfortunately, that is what we believe happened in this incident. We intend to get not only answers but justice for the family for an unnecessary death that didn’t have to happen.”
Justin Perkins will be laid to rest tomorrow.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!