According to autopsy results, the cause of death for a man who died in police custody was “positional asphyxia,” which suggests he suffocated in the police unit. The medical examiner ruled the death as accidental.
Robin Daniel Harney, 57, died on Jan. 9 after the Roswell Police Department responded to a call from Albertson’s, 1110 S. Main St., where Harney was arrested on charges of criminal trespass. He had been advised of criminal trespass previously and was asked not to return to the store.
When he returned to the store, employees called the police.
The autopsy [auth] report specifically states under “How injury occurred” that he was “placed face down in rear of vehicle while intoxicated.”
The report further notes numerous blunt force injuries, several broken ribs and the breast bone was broken. The medical examiner stated the broken ribs and breastbone were “consistent with injuries from chest compressions done for resuscitative efforts.”
The autopsy listed a number of small abrasions on the middle region and left area of his forehead, and on the scalp. The report also listed abrasions and bruises on the upper extremities, including a “red-purple abrasion encircling the left wrist.” On the legs, the autopsy noted other abrasions and contusions, the largest of which was 2 inches by 2 inches.
The medical examiner, Dr. Ross Zumwalt, concluded: “The 57-year-old male, Robin Daniel Harney died of positional asphyxia. Mixed drug and ethanol toxicity, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, obesity and pulmonary emphysema were significant contributing factors.”
Zumwalt repeated the information provided in the official RPD documentation of the incident. “He was reportedly alert and uncooperative when he was handcuffed and placed in the back of the police car. … Upon arrival at the Detention Center, Mr. Harney was face down in the backseat and unresponsive….
“Mr. Harney was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and when he became positioned face down, he may have been unable to reposition himself …”
Sgt. Monica Martinez of NMSP Criminal Investigation Division said that according to the officers who investigated at the scene there was no indication of wrong-doing by the RPD.
The death was investigated jointly by the Roswell Police Department, the New Mexico State Police and the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office.
RPD’s investigating detective was unavailable for comment.