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New Jersey officials are investigating why a 32-year-old African-American man died while in police custody on Tuesday, after according to witnesses he was violently beaten by officers and mauled by a police dog.
Phillip White was arrested in Vineland, New Jersey around 11am on Tuesday after police responded to a call for service for a disorderly person, a spokesperson for the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office said Wednesday. After arriving at the scene, officers soon called for medical assistance in response to White appearing to be in respiratory distress. White was handcuffed and restrained during the incident, the spokesman said.
Investigators have said that after being placed in an emergency vehicle and brought to a nearby hospital, White became unresponsive, and was given CPR. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said in a statement on Tuesday that the Vineland Police Department is cooperating with the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office to investigate the incident.
"As many of you have already heard, earlier today a tragedy occurred involving officers and a citizen," Codispoti said. "Sadly, this call for service resulted in and 'in-custody, non-shooting death.'"
According to witnesses, the police were aggressive toward White, who was already in handcuffs and unconscious.
"They punched him, stomped him, kicked him and then they let the dog out of the car," Ricardo Garcia told NBC10. "The dog bit him on his face and around his body. There's no call for that. Once a man is handcuffed and unconscious, you should have stuck him in the patrol car and take him to the police station. Instead they decided to beat him right here."
Codispoti toldThe Daily Journal that the two officers involved in the incident are now on administrative leave while the investigation is underway.
White's aunt, Valerie White, is demanding answers for the death of her nephew.
"Why, what he was doing, I don't know," she told NBC10. "I'm trying to get answers and closure now. He lived a street life but he was a human being. Bottom line."
Recorded scanner traffic reportedly indicates that an officer can be heard saying that White was trying to grab his gun.
"He's got my gun, right now," the officer says. "Subject under, got an apprehension. He tried to turn on me."
The police department has not released information regarding the reason for White's arrest, and the cause of his death is still unclear.