Kzoo officers suspended 1 day for in-custody death

James Dunigan's medical, personal history blamed for death

A 2008 mug shot of James Ronald Dunigan from the Michigan Department of Corrections.


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of a Kalamazoo man who died while in police custody says the one-day suspension the officers involved received wasn’t nearly enough.

“They really just let my brother die,” said Autura Dunigan, the brother of James Dunigan. “Got one day suspension. Oh my God.”

James Dunigan was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the Kalamazoo County Jail on May 6. Officers took him into custody after he refused to leave the hospital’s emergency room following his discharge.

In video captured on cameras in the patrol car, Dunigan could be heard moaning in the back seat of the cruiser as he was taken from Bronson Methodist Hospital to the jail, about an hour before his death. Officers also heard snoring sounds and found Dunigan on the floor of the vehicle and foaming at the mouth when they stopped the car.

Wednesday, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety said Derek Nugent and Eric Shaffer checked Dunigan’s eye response, breathing, pain reaction and level of consciousness before continuing their drive.

“What the hell? Shine a line in his eyes make sure he’s responding. Oh, you’re fine, look at you. You’re fine, you’re acting,” an officer can be heard saying in the video.

According to KDPS, the medical examiner’s office determined Dunigan’s death was accidental. It said he died from a combination of heart and circulation problems, diabetes and kidney disease. The medical examiner’s office said Dunigan’s condition was worsened by a combination of drugs, including hydrocodone, diphenhydramine, ephedrine and gabapentin. The autopsy also concluded Dunigan chronically used cocaine and had taken the narcotic fentanyl.

Officers Nugent and Shaffer were suspended from their jobs for one day for not recognizing Dunigan’s condition and seeking medical treatment.

“On behalf of KDPS and the City of Kalamazoo we extend our continued condolences to the Dunigan family and I apologize for any failings on the part of KDPS,” Chief Jeff Hadley stated in a Wednesday news release.

The chief said the Kalamazoo County Medical Control Authority has agreed to help train officers and review best practices.

He did not return a call from 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday seeking an interview regarding the investigation.

Autura Dunigan said he wishes officers had recognized when his brother needed help. The Dunigan family is working with an attorney to file a lawsuit.

FORMER EMT: NO RESPONSE TO RED FLAGS

A former EMT told 24 Hour News 8 the officers’ actions were “completely unacceptable” after watching the video of Dunigan in the cruiser.

“I personally have the utmost respect for the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, and so when I saw this video footage, I was just completely floored,” Rev. Nathan Dannison said.

James Dunigan, Nathan Dannison, former EMT, police custody death
Former EMT Nathan Dannison watches the video of James Dunigan in the back of a police cruiser. (Aug. 24, 2016)

Now the senior pastor at Kalamazoo First Congregational Church, he previously worked as an EMT for the Red Cross in the Middle East. He said there were several red flags the officers seemed to ignore. He said KDPS officers are trained to be first responders in a medical emergency and have more training than the average police officers, so they should have noticed that something was wrong.

“He’s completely unresponsive to the sternum rub,” Dannison said as he watched the video. “And it’s at this point that probably drastic medical emergency medical interventions need to be taking place to save this man’s life.”

“Their behavior was so far outside anything that I had been taught and in fact it was in defiance of what I’d been taught. They were doing things that we were very specifically told not to do,” he continued.

Many others at a Kalamazoo 4 Justice meeting Wednesday night felt the same way.

kalamazoo 4 justice
A Kalamazoo 4 Justice meeting on Aug. 24, 2016.

“In any other job if somebody lost their life due to your negligence, they would be fired. We would expect you know the same from an officer,” said Jacquis Robertson, a Kalamazoo 4 Justice member.

“Not only with the lack of response but with the response that they do have, which is almost more force against the people who are asking for help,” another member, Annie Sprague, said.

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