MILWAUKEE -- The police officer who arrested rape suspect Ernest Lacy said Lacy 'went beserk' when police tried to put handcuffs on him, another officer testified today at the inquest into Lacy's death.
Officer John Fliss said that was all tactical squad officer Thomas Eliopul said when he brought Lacy to the scene of the alleged rape.
Another suspect already had been identified by the rape victtim, and Lacy was later cleared. But the 22-year-oldblack man died while in police custody.
Lacy was in a police van at the rape scene, Fliss said, for at least 15 minutes. Paramedics were on the scene and Fliss said he 'overhead' that 'something had happened' to Lacy in the van.
Fliss testifed on the fourth day of an unusual inquest into the controversial death. Dr. Chesley Erwin, Milwaukee County's chief medical examiner, said Wednesday he could not pinpoint exactly what shut off air to Lacy's brain.
Erwin conceded that a police officer who put his knee in Lacy's back while trying to handcuff him during a struggle 'might have been a factor' in the suffocation.
He noted that during the struggle, a nerve from Lacy's brain to his heart might have been closed off long enough to cause his death. But the lack of blood, cracked ribs or other signs of a struggle make it difficult to single out any one factor as the cause of death, Erwin said.
Lacy had no signs of heart problems or respiratory difficulties.
Lacy's relatives and many people in the black community have charged that his death was the direct result of police brutality. But police said they did nothing unusual in apprehending Lacy, who tried to run from them. There have been demands for the firing of the three officers, now suspended, and others for the retirement of Police Chief Harold Brier.
Breier, 70, has said his officers responded properly and the controversy was being stirred by 'radicals.'
Erwin discounted a theory that 'fright' caused Lacy's throat to constrict, resulting in the suffocation. But he said he still was not 'able to eliminate the thought there was something in his medical data to explain the death.'
Lacy had been confined several times for emotional problems and had been given drugs to treat the disorder.
Erwin said his toxicology tests showed no evidence of any drugs.
One police officer who investigated the rape that led to Lacy's arrest said the real suspect had been identified by the victim several minutes before the police van carrying Lacy's body arrived at a local hospital to be pronounced dead.
Retired Judge Robert Cannon is presiding over the inquest and acting as a deputy medical examiner. The regular deputy examiner disqualified himself after telling a reporter he did not think a jury could find enough evidence to charge any of the officers.