HIGHLAND PARK, NJ - Newly released dashcam footage from the Highland Park Police Department depicts a scuffle between the cops and an Edison man hours before he died.
Daniel Nagahama, 28 of Edison, died in June 2016 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
On the afternoon of Thursday, June 4, 2016, Highland Park police responded to reports of Nagahama laying in the middle of the road at the corner of Benner Street and South Fifth Avenue.
Police revived Nagahama. He then appeared to become increasingly belligerent, according to police footage.
The struggle with police goes on for about 13 minutes. At times, Nagahama can be heard screaming at police officers or waving his arms, according to police footage, although much of what Nagahama and the officers are saying is indiscernible.
At one point, Nagahama can be heard yelling “Words! Words! Does that make you feel better? I am good! Ugh! What does that mean?", according to police footage.
Minutes later, Nagahama begins waving his hands in the face of one of the officers, puts his own face several inches from the officer and began making squealing noises, prompting the officers to attempt to restrain him, according to police footage.
Nagahama struggles with the group of officers, who pin him to the hood of one of the squad cars as they attempt to handcuff and subdue him, according to the footage.
One of the officers takes out a can of pepper spray and points it towards Nagahama’s face, but doesn’t end up spraying him.
Eventually Nagahama is brought to the ground, according to police footage, while he can be heard screaming “Oh my god!”
An ambulance then arrives, and Nagahama can be seen loaded onto the gurney and restrained
An initial statement by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office indicated that Nagahama became “belligerent” and struggled with police.
The statement also adds that he was not placed under arrest, but instead taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, where he died several hours later.
Three of the four use-of-force-forms (UFR) filled out by the individual police officers indicate that Nagahama was arrested for committing disorderly persons offenses.
Highland Park police Sgt. Jason C. Culver and Officers Brian O'Mara, Kevin M. Garrity and Christopher DeCosta all reported using a "compliance hold" and "hands/fists" on Nagahama, who was "under the influence" and "resisted police officer control," against a cop using a "compliance hold" on him.
The forms also indicated that O'Mara used a "natural/chemical" agent during the incident.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, in a written statement, maintained that Nagahama wasn’t placed under arrest.
“Mr. Nagahama was undergoing a mental crisis, and was not cooperative, he was placed in handcuffs for his safety, as well as that of the officers,” Carey said.
“He was transported to the hospital where he continued to be combative with police and hospital staff. Once calmed down, the handcuffs were removed and the police left the hospital with Mr. Nagahama under hospital’s care. Mr. Nagahama passed away later. Mr. Nagahama was never charged with any crime,” Carey said
“Therefore, while Mr. Nagahama was indeed restrained, handcuffed and transported from the scene to the hospital, he was not placed under formal arrest. The UFRs (use of force reports) which indicate an arrest, were prepared in anticipation of later charging Mr. Nagahama with a petty disorderly persons offense,” the prosecutor said.
Nagahama’s death had become a legal controversy in the year that followed.
The open government public advocacy group, Libertarians for Open Government, won a lawsuit against the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office for the release of many of the documents relating to the case.