WASHINGTON — Two security guards investigated in the death of a special education teacher who died after being taken into custody at a District of Columbia apartment building will not face charges, prosecutors said Thursday.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said in a statement that “there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights or local charges” in the Nov. 1, 2015, death of Alonzo Smith.
Security guards restrained the 27-year-old after he was seen acting strangely and shouting “help,” and he was under the influence of “a significant amount of cocaine” at the time of his death, prosecutors said in announcing the outcome of a review of the incident.
“After this review, the U.S. Attorney’s Office concluded that the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Special Police Officers violated Mr. Smith’s civil rights by using excessive force or that they possessed the requisite criminal intent at the time of the events. Rather, the evidence shows that Mr. Smith suffered a sudden cardiac incident that resulted in death,” the statement said. It used the term “Special Police Officer” to describe the security guards.
At the time of his death, Smith was “under the influence of a significant amount of cocaine and was being restrained” by the officers, prosecutors said, “both of which may have contributed to the cardiac arrest.”
Smith’s death had been ruled a homicide by a medical examiner, who said the death was the result of a heart attack complicated by “acute cocaine toxicity while restrained.” A contributing factor was “compression of his torso,” the medical examiner said. Prosecutors said that did not mean that another person was criminally responsible for his death.
Steven D. Kupferberg, an attorney for Smith’s mother, said in a telephone interview that his client was “extremely upset and disappointed with the results announced by the U.S. Attorney’s office today.” He said they had put the city on notice of their intent to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Prosecutors said Thursday that the security guards confronted Smith after seeing him acting strangely at the Marbury Plaza apartment complex in southeast Washington. Smith ran out of the building without shoes and a shirt, yelled “help” repeatedly and also reportedly yelled “they’re trying to kill me,” though no one was touching or chasing the man, prosecutors said. He also banged on doors, prosecutors said.
Security officers restrained Smith with two sets of handcuffs, but there is no evidence that either officer “punched, kicked, or otherwise struck” him, prosecutors said. Two police officers wearing body cameras arrived after Smith was handcuffed, and efforts to revive Smith were captured by the cameras.
District of Columbia officials previously released footage from those cameras, the first time the city had made such a release after outfitting officers with cameras, officials said at the time.