A day after Columbus police officers struggled with a bloodied Hector Arreola on a disorderly conduct call on Moss Drive, the man died at Midtown Medical Center while a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe is underway.
Arreola, 30, was pronounced dead at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the hospital, Deputy Muscogee County Coroner Charles Newton said. His body will be transported to the crime lab in Decatur for an autopsy.
The family of Arreola is represented by Columbus attorney Stacey Jackson, who said he is trying to find out how you go from a misdemeanor arrest to death.
“I think not only the Arreola family but the community deserves to know what happened,” he said. “When he was taken into custody, he was, like, screaming, ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ One would think if they’re telling you, ‘I can’t breathe,’ you probably want to take your knee off the guy’s neck and stop pushing his face into the ground.”
Jackson said Arreola was considered healthy before the encounter with the officers. In the hospital’s intensive care unit, Arreola had contusions, bruising to his upper torso, arm and had a neck brace while breathing with help from a ventilator.
Brian Dudley and Mike Aguilar, two patrol officers who responded to the initial call in the 700 block of Moss Drive, have been placed on administrative duty while the GBI conducts an investigation.
By the time officers arrived on the street about 5:10 a.m. Monday, Arreola had run to a neighbor’s house that sits high on a hill two doors away and had a porch light burning, said Alan Tarvin, a Florida landscaper who’s staying at his parents’ house. The man banged on the door and claimed someone was trying to kill him. “When he said that, I thought to myself, maybe this guy needs some help,” Tarvin said.
Standing in below-freezing weather, the bearded man was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, white sneakers and blue jeans. Seeing the police car two doors away, Tarvin told the man that 911 was right behind him. Arreola then turned toward the bottom of the driveway and saw the police officers with flashlights.
“They said, ‘Come down the hill now,’ ” Tarvin said. “They knew his name. They called his name.”
Tarvin said the officers at the driveway commanded Arreola to put his hands where they could see them and walk down the hill. When he didn’t comply, Aguilar and Dudley came up the driveway. Arreola was standing near the carport facing the street. He was a few feet from a freshly poured concrete landing trimmed with old bricks with sharp edges.
“Looking down at the officers, I thought he was fixing to run,” Tarvin said. “He stepped off the steps real quick. I thought he was fixing to bolt. All I saw was flashlights shining on him.”
As the officers came up the hill, the man’s mother came to the house near the mailbox, Tarvin said. The officers said they were taking Arreola into custody.
“They weren’t being aggressive or anything,” Tarvin said. “He wasn’t having it. He went to fighting them. He never swung at them but when they tried to get his arms, one grabbed his arm and tried to spin him around, and he went off. He fought like a bull. He tried to break loose. The other one grabbed him. All three went down right up there,” Tarvin said, pointing to his landing near the front stoop.
What appears to be blood is still in the grass, but none was visible on the concrete.
“I think his face hit that little pad. I just poured this thing,” Tarvin said. “I thought that is what his face hit, ’cause he was here and struggling. When they took him down, he went right down into it. I couldn’t see.”
Tarvin said his porch light had been turned off. During the struggle, it was dark. “They tussled with him,” he sad. “He was like a bull in a china shop. He was not going into custody. He wasn’t going in the cuffs.”
Officers at the scene said the man had a cut above his eye after a more-than-seven-minute struggle. “There were no punches. They were just trying to subdue him,” Tarvin said. “They were yelling at him the whole time. They told him to quit resisting, give us your hands.”
A third officer arrived on the scene before Arreola was handcuffed.
Tarvin described one of the original officers as Aguilar, the smaller one, and Dudley the larger officer. Aguilar was winded during the struggle and needed to catch his breath. He was seen later using an inhaler.
Arreola was taken away in an ambulance by emergency medical services personnel. Tarvin said he didn’t see blood on the man’s face until he was rolled over and stood up. “One side of his face, part of his mouth and nose were covered in blood,” he said.
By 5:40 a.m. the officers were gone, but other personnel returned five minutes later. More than four firefighters were knocking on the door and looking for someone who had a heart attack. Tarvin said he heard on a police radio that the man was in the ambulance at the nearby Piggly Wiggly. “They took off running,” he said.
Tarvin said the yard was filled with officers from GBI, police department and Professional Standards until 11 a.m.
Chris Moreland, a neighbor who lives across the street from Tarvin and one who serves as reserve deputy for Russell County Sheriff’s Office, said he was awakened by his barking dogs.
“I know what they had to do to get people down,” he said. “I was watching. When I was looking, nothing looked excessive to me. I mean it just looked like they were struggling. He was fighting the whole time.”
Moreland said that type of stuff is unusual in the area.
“It’s really a quiet neighborhood,” he said.