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Victim's mother will teach Tenn. recruits about son's death


Editor’s Note: The sudden in-custody death described below illustrates an unfortunate scenario. In the article Understanding the dynamics of sudden in-custody deaths, P-1 Contributor Michael Stone lists 9 precautions to take in order to avoid a positional asphyxia death.

By BILL POOVEY, Associated Press Writer

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.- A woman whose son suffocated during an arrest when officers held him to the ground will teach city police recruits about his death, according to the settlement of an excessive force lawsuit.

Loretta Prater, a university administrator who oversees a criminal justice academic program, will teach three classes of Chattanooga police recruits about the positional asphyxia death of her son, Leslie Vaughn Prater, her attorneys and the city said Wednesday.

The settlement also awards her $1.5 million in damages and requires an independent audit of the police department's internal affairs division, which concluded there was no wrongdoing.

Prater, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Southeast Missouri State University, said money was not the goal of her lawsuit.

"That isn't what would have made a change," she said. "This is wrong. Everyone should have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This street justice, or street injustice, has got to stop."

Police said the Jan. 2, 2004, death of Leslie Prater, 37, was an accident, and no one was charged. Authorities said he had gotten out of his parked car, stripped naked and begun running around and yelling. He resisted being taken into custody, police said, and was wrestled to the ground.

A medical examiner's report shows Prater died from "positional asphyxia," with contributing factors of acute alcohol and cocaine intoxication, a heart condition and mild obesity.

Chattanooga officials also agreed in the settlement to pay for an independent evaluation of police policies about face-down restraints and avoiding positional asphyxia. City spokeswoman Michelle Michaud said the four officers would attend a Thursday meeting with the victim's family to discuss the death.

In a statement, the department said that Prater's death was a tragedy for his family, the officers who were sued and their families.

"The primary reason for taking the naked Mr. Prater into custody on that cold night was to protect him from hurting himself or others," the department said.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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