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N4T Investigators: Second autopsy report surfaces in case of Tucson Police Department in-custody death

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Startling new details in a story the News 4 Tucson Investigators first brought you last month regarding the death of Carlos Adrian Lopez. Lopez, a Tucson man and father of a toddler, died while handcuffed in police custody.

Three Tucson Police Department officers resigned over the incident after they were accused of not following proper police procedures during the arrest. The chief of police said the men would have been terminated had they not quit.

Did their actions contribute to Lopez' death? An autopsy report done by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner says no.

Now, a second autopsy report has surfaced that says differently.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained a copy of the second autopsy done on Lopez.

"They understood that to get the truth to get to justice they needed truth and understanding of what happened," said Eduardo Coronado, a family friend and attorney.

The Lopez family gave Coronado permission to get a second autopsy done independently of the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner. The results just came back. While there are some similarities in both autopsies, there is one big difference - the cause of death.

The autopsy conducted in Pima County the day after Lopez died stated in part:

"…the cause of death is ascribed to sudden cardiac arrest in the setting of acute cocaine intoxication and physical restraint with cardiac left ventricular hypertrophy as a significant contributing condition."

A second autopsy conducted by Dr. Philip Keen, who formerly worked as the medical examiner for Maricopa and Yavapai counties stated in part:

" …his death is most consistent with asphyxia due to compromised airway which is best explained by a face down position restricting his breathing. While there were only small abrasions on his left back and flank he was in a face down position with his wrists cuffed and this would potentially further compromise his breathing."

"It brings these answers to all our questions that we've had these past two and half months," Iris Lizarraga, Lopez' mother said.

The family says the second autopsy report confirms for them that the three officers who responded to the call were responsible for Lopez' death.

"If he had received proper medical care in time, if he had been turned over, it's unlikely that the positional asphyxia would have taken his life," said David Fruchtman, Ph. D.

Dr. Fruchtman is the director of the Walden Group, who conducted the second autopsy at the request of the family. The examination was performed in Mesa three days after Lopez died.

"Oftentimes, people come in because they need to know what happened," Dr. Fruchtman said. "They need to be provided closure."

The family tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators they are now considering legal action. The family said they want the three officers involved in Lopez' arrest to face criminal charges.

The mother of the victim released the following statement in regard to the latest autopsy below.

Click here to read the autopsy report by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, and here for the toxicology report.

The second autopsy report requested by the Lopez family can be found here.

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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