MANSFIELD, Ohio — The family of Alexander Jose Rios, 28, wants answers about his death after a video released by the Richland County Jail shows five corrections officers punching, tasering, and stepping on his back while failing to notice when he is in medical distress.
"It just seems like it doesn't matter to anybody," said Don Mould, Rios's stepfather. "It matters to us."
"We think about him all the time," said Toni Mould, Rios's mother. "We don’t think he should have died the way he did."
Rios was booked into the Richland Co. Jail during the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 2019 on an outstanding drug-related warrant.
Less than 24 hours later, he was on life support.
GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: Rios was sent to the Richland County Jail on a drug-related warrant. What led to his death was caught on camera. We want to warn you – what you are going to see is graphic. We know this is difficult to watch. However, ultimately, we believe it’s important to show you the critical moments that explain how he died, and the Rios family wants you to see this video too, because they want answers.
A Fatal Five Minutes
News 5 obtained the video through a public records request. The video, provided to us by Fishel Downey Albrecht & Riepenhoff, a Columbus-area law firm representing the Richland Co. Sheriff's Office, blurred the corrections officers' faces.
The video begins with officers ordering Rios to come down from a divider inside his jail cell. Rios refuses but does not threaten to jump or cause harm.
According to records, Sgt. Jamaal O'Dell said he began recording the video on a hand-held camera after he was called to assist officers who were trying to get Rios to come down. O'Dell tells Rios he is going to open his cell door to put him in a restraint chair.
At 53 seconds into the video, officers open the cell door. Rios darts out of his cell and past the officers.
Within 10 seconds, Rios is tackled by two officers. Two more officers respond to help restrain him. O'Dell hands the camera to a female officer so he can also assist in restraining Rios.
At 1:20 seconds into the video, the female officer encourages the officers to use more force on Rios, even as Rios is on the ground being restrained by the five male officers.
She shouted, "Tase him! Tase him!"
At least twice, Rios is tased. Rios moans in pain. Rios said, "I'm not even fighting."
Another officer asked, "Should we tase him again?" The female officer replies, "You need to."
However, no one uses their taser this time. Instead, one of the officers, who has been pressing Rios's head into the concrete floor, punches Rios in the head.
Then, at two minutes and 45 seconds into the video, another officer, who placed his right foot on Rios’s right shoulder blade, lifts his left foot off the ground. The officer's full body weight is on Rios for seven seconds.
At some point after two minutes into the video, Rios becomes unconscious. None of the officers appear to notice.
Instead, they continue shouting commands at Rios. At close to five minutes, the officers attempt to lift Rios into a restraint chair.
"Get up!" shouted one officer as they lift Rios into a restraint chair.
Another officer said, "He's turning blue. He's turning blue."
The female officer shouted, "He's turning blue!" She immediately calls for an ambulance.
The officers place Rios on his side. One officer said, “Try to get him some oxygen, make sure everything’s going okay for him,”
Rios' family said he never regained consciousness after the incident. They removed him from life support a week later, on Sept. 27, 2019.
‘Gratuitously inflicting pain’
At News 5's request, Phil Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University and a former police officer, reviewed the video.
“It is one of the more troubling videos I’ve seen in a long time in terms of just the gross disregard for human life exhibited by law enforcement personnel," Stinson said.
Stinson said the officers failed to follow best practices when they attempted to enter Rios's cell to put him into a restraint chair and that Rios never should have been able to escape.
“It’s very sloppy," Stinson said.
He also said the video appears to show officers using more force than was necessary to restrain Rios.
"What I saw troubled me," Stinson said. "Once they had Mr. Rios down on the ground, face down, one of the deputies who was applying pressure to his head, gratuitously punched him in the head several times, and then continued to apply downward pressure on his skull while other deputies at the same time are applying downward pressure on his back, making it difficult for Mr. Rios to breath and, ultimately, rendering him unconscious."
"It seems that there was a bit of 'street justice,' if you will," Stinson said. "In other words, deputies were gratuitously inflicting pain.”
Stinson aslo said officers should have immediately noticed when Rios became unconscious.
“That’s the one thing they should have been paying close attention to," he said.
Stinson said there should be a criminal investigation by an outside agency into Rios's death.
Richland Co. Sheriff's response
Richland County Sheriff J. Steven Sheldon, who oversees the jail, declined requests for an on-camera interview.
In an email, Sheldon provided the following response:
"The Sheriff’s Office is aware of the tragic incident that occurred September 19, 2019 involving Alexander Rios at the Richland County Jail. Immediately after the incident occurred, the Sheriff’s Office initiated a criminal investigation into the incident. The Sheriff’s Office turned over the criminal investigation to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (“BCI”). The Prosecutor’s Office requested the appointment of a special prosecutor, and the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office was appointed to review the criminal investigation.
Because these two outside agencies are involved in investigating and reviewing the incident, the Sheriff’s Office cannot provide additional comment regarding the status of the investigation or review. However, the Sheriff’s Office recognizes that the loss of life is always a tragedy and expresses its deep condolences to Mr. Rios’ family members."
A spokesperson for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation said there is currently an ongoing investigation into Rios’s death. Medina County Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case. He also said the investigation is ongoing.
The Richland Co. Coroner ruled Rios's manner of death as accidental and the cause of death as excited delirium. Excited delirium usually refers to aggressive and/or psychotic behavior, often stemming from drug use. It not a condition recognized by the American Medical Association.
The coroner's report also said Rios's urinary drug screen tested positive for amphetamines and a torn bag-like object was found inside his stomach.
'You do watch him die'
“You do watch him die on the video. You watch him take his last independent breath," said Hillary Rios, Alex's sister-in-law.
She and her husband, Alex's older brother Adam, watched the video together.
"I had to watch the video because I had to know what happened," said Adam Rios.
He works in corrections and believe his little brother's death was preventable.
"Was his noncompliance a death sentence?" Adam Rios said. "Was it worth the death sentence?...It wasn’t. Just because somebody does something you don’t agree with doesn’t mean the should die for it."
There wasn’t anyone watching for [Alex]," Hillary Rios said."It’s very clear on this video when he’s in distress, and they didn’t care. They threw his body in a corner like he was nothing. Like he was a sack of potatoes. Nobody on the planet deserves that."
'Who would have thought?'
Don and Toni Mould have not watched the video and do not plan to view it.
"If I see that video, it’s going to bother me until I pass," Don Mould said.
Instead, the couple remains focused on what Alex left behind. He had two sons. Marcus is 12. Anthony is 6.
"I take his little boy [Anthony] to school. And he’ll be real quiet," Don said.
When Don asked why, he told us that Anthony said, "'I’m just thinking about my dad.' That’s a daily conversation."
The family is considering filing a civil rights lawsuit over Alex's death.
Richland County Sheriff’s Office: 2 - Attempted to comply, but failed to provide information in a reasonable time frame
Released blurred video a year after incident, denied request for interview citing a pending investigation, failed to provide basic information about officers’ status