The family of a Gretna man who died in police custody earlier this month called on authorities Sunday to release surveillance video of the man's arrest, a violent struggle that unfolded inside a local convenience store.
Family members of 27-year-old Kendole Joseph gathered in front of the Save A Dollar food store and condemned what they called a cover-up of Joseph's Feb. 9 death, a case that has not previously received media attention.
They were joined by a Chicago activist and civil rights attorney, who accused the Gretna Police Department of beating, tasing and "murdering" Joseph, a father of two who was buried Saturday.
"He was simply minding his own business," said the attorney, Michael Oppenheimer. "He harmed no one. He wouldn't harm a flea."
Deputy Police Chief Anthony Christiana Jr. denied claims made by Joseph's family that investigators had sought to "sweep the case under the rug." He said the Police Department quickly asked the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office to assist in the investigation.
"The Gretna Police Department is actively investigating this particular case," Christiana said by phone. "We will release information once the hard facts are learned."
Details of Joseph's arrest remained murky on Sunday, and a police report was not immediately available.
An autopsy conducted Feb. 14 did not identify the cause of Joseph's' death. Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich, the Jefferson Parish coroner, said his office is awaiting additional testing, including toxicology results.
Family members said Joseph's arrest followed a prolonged mental health "episode" during which Joseph's mother, Debra, called the police.
"His mother called on police that day asking them to help him, bring him to the hospital — not to tase and kill him," said Ja'Mal Green, an activist who served as spokesman for the family of Paul O'Neal, a teenager fatally shot by Chicago police last year.
Christiana confirmed that officers went to a school in the 900 block of Gretna Boulevard where Joseph had been causing some kind of disturbance. At some point, Joseph entered the Save A Dollar, a convenience store near his home, and was subdued by officers following a lengthy struggle.
Joseph was to be booked on counts of battery on a police officer, resisting arrest and resisting by flight, Christiana said. But he began experiencing "medical difficulties" after being taken into custody, Christiana said. Joseph then was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later.
Joseph's family said they were frustrated by what they called a lack of transparency in the investigation.
"We don't have any answers as to what happened," said the man's sister, Katie Joseph. "We literally know nothing because they're not giving us any answers."
"The only memories we're going to have is his picture on T-shirts, and that's not right," added Joseph's mother, Debra, referring to the shirts Joseph's loved ones wore to Sunday's gathering. "He was a good child."