Man dies after struggling to breathe while under arrest

Patrick Ennis

As they arrested a man who later died, two Omaha police officers used no force beyond their strength to put the man's hands behind his back, a police spokesman said Sunday.

Patrick D. Ennis died Sunday afternoon, two days after he had difficulty breathing while he was being handcuffed.

The cause of the 50-year-old man's death may become clear after an autopsy, which is scheduled for today.

Ennis had displayed bizarre behavior before the officers arrived about 5:15 p.m. Friday to the back of a house near 31st Avenue and Jackson Street for a disturbance, said the spokesman, Officer Kevin Wiese. It is not clear if Ennis lived at the house.

Police found Ennis standing at a stair railing, clenching his fists, Wiese said.

Officers told Ennis to place his hands behind his back. At first he appeared to cooperate, then returned his hands to the front of his body, Wiese said.

"Officers utilized strength techniques in order to place Mr. Ennis in handcuffs," Wiese wrote in a statement.

At that point, Ennis appeared to have difficulty breathing. An officer removed the handcuffs and began CPR. Paramedics took him to a hospital.

Witnesses told police that Ennis was possibly intoxicated and acting erratically before officers arrived. They said he was destroying property, had self-inflicted injuries and was not acting like himself, Wiese said.

Ennis died at the Nebraska Medical Center, where he was taken after his arrest Friday.

Ennis' death and his encounter with officers will be reviewed by a grand jury, as required by state law. The Police Department notified the Douglas County Attorney's Office of Ennis' death.

Wiese did not respond Sunday to a question about whether the two officers involved in the arrest were on full duty, administrative leave or modified assignment.

The encounter between Ennis and the police is also being probed by the department's officer-involved investigations squad.

Ennis' most serious criminal history includes an attempted second-degree assault conviction in 2013. Ennis hit a man in the head with a wooden club and tried to take the man's wallet, police said.

The circumstances of Ennis' death share some similarities with the deaths of two people who died in recent years in Omaha police custody.

Michael A. Harris, 32, died in October 2014 at Immanuel Medical Center a couple of weeks after assaulting employees at a liquor store. Police responding to the assaults arrested Harris and called for an ambulance while he was in a cruiser. An autopsy showed that Harris had taken marijuana and PCP and was schizophrenic, which caused "excited delirium" and led to his death.

Michael D. Moore, 26, died in February 2011, also of "excited delirium." Moore had entered a woman's home, assaulted her, and struggled with neighbors and passers-by. Several police officers subdued Moore and placed him in a cruiser. He stopped breathing and died later at a hospital.

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