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Family Says It Will File Claim in Falling Death of Handcuffed Suspect

July 23, 2002|RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The family of a handcuffed man who plunged to his death last weekend from a second-story landing says it will file a claim against Upland police alleging the fall should not have happened while the man was in police custody.

Ronnie Bullock, 44, died Saturday at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton a few hours after the fall.

Upland police said two officers had handcuffed Bullock outside his apartment and were telling him that he was being arrested on an outstanding warrant for a parole violation when he suddenly tried to escape over a 37-inch-high rail.

"When he swung his leg over, the momentum carried him headfirst onto the concrete 12 to 15 feet below," Sgt. Ken Bonson said. "That's what a woman at the apartment and officers told investigators."

An attorney for Bullock's family, Joe C. Hopkins, said Monday that he was preparing a wrongful death claim.

"At the very least, they had a duty to protect him once he was in police custody.... He fell backward on his head."

Hopkins is representing Bullock's sons, Rodney, 16, and Ronnie Jr. 24; his stepson, Michael Harris, 14; and his father, Robert Lee Bullock, 71.

Upland police said Bullock made a similar daring jump from a second story on May 16, 1999, to flee another pair of the department's officers, but was captured on the ground. On that occasion, he had run through a glass door to the balcony, Bonson said.

"Nobody knows why he did it," Bonson said of Friday's incident. "In 1999, he suffered only minor injuries from the jump. Maybe he thought he could do it again. He was probably facing state prison for a parole violation."

As it does with all deaths involving officers, the Upland Police Department called in the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department to investigate the incident.

It began after police received a call about 11:15 p.m. about a man in a striped shirt and jeans trying to remove a screen from a second-story apartment at 1334 W. Foothill Blvd. Bonson said when officers found Bullock in the parking area, he told them he was locked out of his upstairs apartment. After learning he had an outstanding warrant, they handcuffed him, Bonson said.

Hopkins said the officers should have ensured that Bullock wasn't near the railing. "This unnecessary death needs to be thoroughly investigated," he said.

Bullock lived at the apartment with two of his three children, Hopkins said.

An autopsy found that Bullock died of a "blunt head, neck and chest injury."

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