GRETNA, LA (WVUE) - The Gretna Police Department is gearing up for a possible protest Saturday over the death of a man involved in an altercation with officers in February.
The circumstances surrounding Kendole Joseph, 27, and his encounter with officers remain unclear two months after his death, in part because police are not yet releasing video of the incident.
Gretna police said multiple witnesses called 911 on Feb. 7 to report a man acting erratically in the city and in parts of Jefferson Parish on Manhattan Boulevard. Gretna officers confronted Joseph at the corner of Gretna Boulevard and Claire Street around 1:30 p.m. after someone working at a nearby school alerted authorities.
"The individual involved took off running. Our officers gave chase. (Joseph) ran inside of a convenience store and jumped over the counter. There was a struggle between the officers when trying to subdue him that lasted about seven minutes," said Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson.
The entire seven-minute struggle inside the Save-A-Dollar was caught on video surveillance. However, the store owner told FOX 8 that investigators took his video hard drive and replaced it with a new hard drive.
Lawson said the department will not release the video until the joint investigation with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office is complete.
The chief watched the video and contends that his officers, who have not been disciplined, acted appropriately. Joseph, who was known to have mental issues, had had previous encounters with Gretna Police, according to Lawson.
"The officers involved didn't know there was a problem [with Joseph]. They were responding to a call of an individual who was acting suspicious. There was an individual who worked at the school that actually called the school, she was outside of the school grounds, and asked them to stay on the phone because she was afraid," Lawson said.
The two officers dry-stunned Joseph once and tased him in the torso, but Lawson said Joseph continued to resist.
Officers finally shackled Joseph's feet and brought him to their cruiser. "A short time later," Joseph was found unconscious in the back of the cruiser, according to the police report. Emergency crews already on the scene performed CPR on Joseph and rushed him to Oschner Medical Center, the report said.
Joseph died on Feb. 9.
Lawson said attorneys contacted the department and indicated that investigators should not reach out to the Joseph family.
"We have been waiting for the coroner's report," Lawson said. "When we get that and complete our investigation, we will have a full release of all the facts of the investigation."
Lawson said he will release the video once the investigation is completed.
Joseph family spokesman and activist Ja'Mal Green released the following statement:
"The incident with Kendole Joseph is a prime example of how ignorant the Gretna police department & the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs office is when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill. Kendole was a person, and he deserved to be treated with care, but all they saw was a black man and a threat. Kendole deserves justice and accountability. And justice is not only the conviction of the officers involved, but a promise from the Gretna police department and the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs to begin sensitivity training to properly deal with the mentally ill. No family or person deserves this pain and we want to be sure that what happened to him never happens to anyone else. When the time comes, we will take to the street until we get justice!"
On Thursday, Joseph's family members did not wish to talk and instead are reserving their comments for a vigil planned Friday afternoon and a protest being organized by the New Black Panther Party scheduled for Saturday.
"We are demanding justice for our dear brother Kendole Joseph who was beaten to death by the racist pigs," said the national chief of staff for the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense in his podcast.
Family members do admit that Joseph struggled with mental issues but said his behavior was not elevated to the level described by police. They feel their loved one died as a result of police brutality and urge the release of the Save-A-Dollar's surveillance video.
"We have the entire equipment," Lawson said. "I think that's better than making a copy of something and having it. In a case where we are able to take that equipment and save the entire system for evidence, it's a better practice."
A worker at the convenience store told FOX 8 that FBI agents came to the store to talk with witnesses. FOX 8 reached out to the FBI New Orleans Division to see if the agency was investigating.
"We are unable to provide comment at this time," Public Affairs Specialist Craig Betbeze stated in an email.
The Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office said they are waiting for the results of Joseph's toxicology report. At this time, Joseph's cause of death is unknown.
The autopsy should be completed sometime in May, according to coroner's investigator Mark Boone.