His death was ruled to be due to natural causes, as a result of both obesity and heart problems, but disturbing new video shows that he told the guards at the Bi State Jail 19 times in 9 minutes, “I can’t breathe.”
“If you just looked at the cause of death, you would think that Michael died of some sort of hypertensive heart condition, and that may be true,” said Erik J. Heipt, one of the attorneys representing the Sabbie family. “But if we didn’t have a video, we’d never know that he had been begging for help due to his shortness of breath and inability to breathe. We’d never know that he said ‘I can’t breathe’ 19 times in the nine minutes that we hear in that video.”
Heipt’s law partner, Edwin Budge, called the video “without a doubt among one of the most outrageous” that they have seen in representing jail deaths throughout the nation.
“Clearly he’s a person in a state of medical crisis, in medical need, asking for help, and the response to his essentially pleas for medical help is inhumane, which is a term I don’t use lightly,” Budge said.
David C. Fathi, the director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, also noted that Sabbie’s death is part of a trend of preventable deaths being labeled as “natural.”
“We often find that someone’s death is characterized as ‘natural causes’ ― maybe it was cancer, maybe it was heart disease,” Fathi said. “But if you look at the medical record, you often find egregious neglect and denial of care. If someone dies of cancer that went totally untreated, is that death from natural causes?”