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Attorney, NAACP skeptical of state's attorney's report on New London in-custody death

A day after the state’s attorney ruled that New London police used appropriate force against a man who died in police custody, the state and local branches of the NAACP are calling for an independent investigation and the attorney for the deceased man’s family said he will continue to pursue a civil lawsuit.

Lashano Gilbert, 31, a native of the Bahamas, died Oct. 4, 2014, following a violent struggle with police after escaping from a holding cell at the New London Police Department.

It took several officers and use of a Taser twice to subdue Gilbert. Police released video of the incident on Thursday.

The attorney for his family, Jamaal Johnson of Hartford, questioned the legitimacy of an investigation conducted by a state’s attorney in the same judicial district of the police department.

He said he also was concerned about the hospital’s and police department’s handling of Gilbert considering his “obviously altered mental state.”

“I viewed the video. I think it clearly shows Lashano at the time was going through some mental health issues,” Johnson said.

The report issued by New London County State’s Attorney Michael Regan details a day of bizarre behavior by Gilbert, who initially was arrested on the evening of Oct. 3 after jumping through the window of a woman’s car where he made motions as if he was going to stab her, though he had no weapon.

He also was speaking in tongues, according to witnesses, and talking about having a ghost inside of him.

Gilbert was subdued with a Taser prior to his arrest after the alleged attempted carjacking and taken to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital to have the Taser prongs removed.

He had to be restrained because of his behavior, police said.

“This is a person that needed help. The scope of liability goes far beyond the actions of the police officers ... Is he someone that should have been released (from the hospital) while in that mental status? Was he seen by the proper professionals?" Johnson said. "We’re closely investigating the actions and the handling of Lashano Gilbert at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.”

Lashano was taken from the hospital to the police department, where the confrontation later occurred. He stopped breathing on the way to the hospital after that incident.

Johnson said Gilbert’s death has similarities to the case of Eric Garner, a man who died in Staten Island, N.Y., last year after a police officer grabbed him around the neck and others subdued him during his arrest.

It took several officers to subdue and handcuff Gilbert, who police said threw things at officers, bit one, spit at another and tried to grab one officer around the neck.

Johnson said Gilbert was on the ground with police on top of him “for a significantly long period of the time with police blocking the video.”

“That’s a lot of pressure to be on Lashano for a little guy. Clearly the average weight of police officers had to be 250,” Johnson said. “There were not even that many people on Eric Garner and that led to his demise. The punishment for having a mental illness and needing help cannot be death."

On Oct. 1, changes to a state law pertaining to police use of force will take effect that allows the chief state’s attorney to designate an official from an outside judicial district to conduct an investigation into the use of force by police officers.

“Our position is police are being allowed to grade their own paper,” Johnson said. “We think that’s a flaw in the system. The fact the law is being changed shows they did see a flaw.”

In his report, Regan said he consulted with Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane, who agreed Regan should conduct the investigation.

NAACP State Conference President Scot X. Esdaile, New London NAACP President Jean M. Jordan and state NAACP Criminal Justice Chairwoman Tamara K. Lanier issued a joint statement on Friday calling for “an independent and transparent investigation."

“The NAACP decries the recent 'Appropriate Use of Force' ruling by the New London’s States Attorney and will pursue justice and reform on behalf of the Gilbert family,” the statement reads.

“Conflicting reports and unanswered concerns related to the custody and care of Gilbert have raised rather than answered questions,” the statement says. “The policies and practices of the Law Enforcement, specifically in their response to Mental Health and Medical emergencies must be overhauled in order to prevent future and the untimely loss of life of those in police custody.”

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Gilbert’s death a homicide caused by “physical altercation (restraint, electric shock, pepper spray) during acute psychosis complicating sickle cell hemoglobinopathy.”

Johnson said Gilbert was not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs at the time of his death. He notified the City of New London of his intent to file a wrongful death suit in March.

New London police have said they would not comment, citing the possibility of litigation.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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