Man in police custody dies an hour after officer says ‘you’re acting’

Video shows James Dunigan in deteriorating health while in police custody. He died about an hour later in jail. Courtesy: WOOD-TV

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) – Officers who arrested a man who died shortly after arriving at the Kalamazoo County Jail initially thought he was acting, newly released video reveals.

24 Hour News 8 obtained the video — both from the dash camera and the camera directed at the back seat of a patrol car — from the  Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety via the Freedom of Information Act. It shows the moments that led up to the May 6 death of James Dunigan.

“I don’t even see how they didn’t see something drastic to them,” Dunigan’s brother, Artura Dunigan, told 24 Hour News 8 after watching the video Thursday. “‘Cause he ain’t the type that just went to hospitals to just see what was going on. Something wrong with him. He’s going there.”

“I don’t even really want to watch it all,” he continued. “Man, I know he was so alone. Oh my God.”

Dunigan, 57, was treated at Bronson Methodist Hospital for chest pain and released around 4:30 a.m. He remained in the hospital lobby, moving around and switching chairs, staff told officers.

When Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Derek Nugent arrived around 6 a.m.,  investigators said Dunigan repeatedly told him he wanted to go to jail. Nugent tried to convince Dunigan to leave the hospital without success, according to the KDPS.

Police say once Dunigan was outside, the officers couldn’t get him out of his wheelchair. Nugent eventually arrested Dunigan for trespassing and a check revealed Dunigan was wanted for violating his probation, officers said.

“He’s got a Lansing tether unit, so parole violation. So it’s a good one, which is probably why all of a sudden his legs turned to spaghetti,” one of the officers said.

“Said his legs were spaghetti. Yeah, that’s ’cause he can’t walk,” Dunigan’s brother said in response as he watched the video.

“They joking the whole time this man is in discomfort,” he continued.

Dunigan can be heard moaning in the back seat of the cruiser as he is taken from Bronson Methodist Hospital to the Kalamazoo County Jail around 6:45 a.m.

“I don’t know if you’re acting or what you’ve got going on but the doctor says you’re good to go up to county so that’s what we’re doing,” one of the officers says as the cruiser pulls out of Bronson Methodist Hospital.

About a minute into the ride, snoring sounds can be heard.

Officers Nugent and Eric Shaffer pull over shortly thereafter to check on Dunigan and find he had slid to the floor, according to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety.

“Hey, can we sit you up in this chair please? C’mon. He’s on the floor,” one officer says.

“What are we going to do with him?” an officer says moments after he’s back in the seat.

“He’s foaming at the mouth,” the other officer notes.

“He’s been cleared, right?” The other officer asks.

“He’s foaming at the mouth, man, that’s not responding. He ain’t said a word,” Artura Dunigan said as he watched the video. “That’s not nothing you can fake.”

“Oh, you’re fine, look at you, you’re fine. This is- you’re acting,” one of the officers said after they flashed a light in Dunigan’s eyes. KDPS said Dunigan had blinked and closed his eyes.

KDPS said the officers also checked Dunigan’s breathing, pain reaction and level of consciousness before continuing their drive.

Below, watch raw video showing the back seat of the patrol car in which Dunigan can be seen. WARNING: Though Dunigan has not been declared dead in the video, viewers may find it disturbing.

App users can view the video by clicking here.

“There was a belief at the time that Mr. Dunigan began being passively resistant as he was being taken to jail, had recently been conversant and mobile, and had just been cleared medically by Bronson Hospital,” Chief Jeff Hadley stated in a Thursday news release.

When the cruiser arrived at the jail at 6:56 a.m., Nugent checked Dunigan’s chest movement to see if he was breathing before jail staff took over treatment, KDPS said.

At 7:41 a.m., Dunigan was pronounced dead at the jail.

“He was at the hospital. He obviously wanted medical attention,” Artura Dunigan previously told 24 Hour News 8. “It seems real obvious to me that somebody messed up.”

Hadley said while his department is awaiting the autopsy report, preliminary results strongly indicate Dunigan’s medical and personal history “were the only factors involved in his death.”

Hadley said KDPS interviewed everyone involved in the incident and his department is at the end stages of its internal investigation.

Below, watch the raw dash cam video from the cruiser. Dunigan is not visible in this video. App users can click here to watch.

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