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LAPD probing death of man in custody

The suspect collapsed at the Hollenbeck police station after fighting with officers. A woman alleges he was beaten while handcuffed.

February 06, 2007|Jessica Garrison and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the circumstances involving the death of a 31-year-old man who collapsed at the Hollenbeck police station after a fight with officers.

Mauricio Cornejo was pronounced dead Saturday evening, hours after he was arrested following a foot chase near the Ramona Gardens housing project in Boyle Heights.

The LAPD disclosed details of the incident after an attorney who was working with Cornejo's family called the media.

One woman said she witnessed the arrest and saw officers hitting Cornejo in the head with batons after he had been handcuffed.

"They hit him in the parking lot ... and then they all started hitting him when he was already on the floor. He was crying 'Help!' " said Norma Picasso, 32.

But in a statement Monday, LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon gave this version of events:

Cornejo was pulled over by officers for having a broken taillight on his car. He was cooperative at first, but then ran from officers.

The officers gave chase and saw Cornejo throw a gun away. They later recovered a loaded .45-caliber handgun.

As Cornejo approached a bridge near the 2700 block of Lancaster Avenue, he turned and tried to hit an officer and then fought with officers.

Once Cornejo was under control, he was handcuffed and placed in a police car.

Cornejo, whom police described as a gang member, was taken to the Hollenbeck police station for booking.

About 7:30 p.m., officers noticed that he was having difficulty breathing and called for an ambulance.

Paramedics pronounced Cornejo dead in his cell.

Attorney Luis Carrillo, who is working with Cornejo's sister Angela Cornejo, said he believed that the death was due to "excessive use of force."

Angela Cornejo said that her brother was in good health and that when she had last talked to him Wednesday, he spoke of trying to get a job.

She said that the family grew up in Ramona Gardens but that Cornejo had recently moved to North Hollywood with his girlfriend.

She added that her brother had been in and out of trouble with the law for years, and may have been on parole.

She also said that Cornejo had suffered a serious head injury in a car accident 10 years ago.

He had amnesia for two weeks before he recovered his memory, she said.

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.

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