An LAFD firefighter is accused of hitting a restrained Black man and tightening a towel around his head as the man yelled, “I can’t breathe.”
The incident in question dates back to March 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times. The outlet has been conducting an inquiry into the matter, and found that city officials including Mayor Garcetti, D.A. Jackie Lacey and City Attorney Mike Feuer hadn’t heard about it.
Per the Times’s investigation, Dr. Marc Eckstein, LAFD’s commander of emergency medical services, wrote a letter to county health director Dr. Marianne Gausche-Hill on October 7, 2019. In it, he said an LAPD officer’s bodycam footage appeared to show firefighter Derek Farrow, who is white, hitting 24-year-old Earl Hatton, who is Black, twice in the head on March 20, 2019. Hatton was handcuffed to a gurney and in hobble restraints at the time. Farrow then appeared to hold a towel over the patient’s head, “forcefully tightening the towel to pin the patient’s head down to the gurney.” During this, the patient is heard saying he can’t breathe. Eckstein was concerned that Farrow may have violated a state law about using excessive force on a patient.
Hatton had been arrested earlier that morning on suspicion of assaulting a woman with a brick and resisting arrest. At the time of the incident, he was being moved from the LAPD’s 77th station to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center’s jail ward. Hatton is now serving a four-year sentence in San Luis Obispo.
L.A. Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas recommended a 12-day suspension for Farrow following an internal review, which Farrow has appealed. He remains on duty and a hearing is pending.
The Times’s inquiry into this incident comes at a time when use of force, especially against Black people and people of color, is under high scrutiny — though it’s typically at the hands of law enforcement, not firefighters. For the last two days, protestors in Los Angeles have assembled to denounce the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Police shot Blake several times in the back in front of his children as he leaned into an SUV. His family’s attorney says he’s now paralyzed.
On August 15, 32-year-old Anthony McClain was shot in the back by a Pasadena police officer as he ran from a traffic stop.
These incidents all occurred after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Andres Guardado and the many others killed by law enforcement whose deaths have led to protests both locally and nationwide.