CHICAGO (CBS) — Avion Cotton died after police said he ingested a “white substance” during an arrest in north suburban Waukegan, and his family has accused officers of using excessive force, but the Lake County Coroner’s office said there were no signs of physical trauma on his body.
Waukegan police said detectives went to a home on the 600 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue around 3 p.m. Thursday to execute a search warrant for drugs.
When they arrived, they saw Cotton pull up in his truck and approach the house. Police said he was the subject of an active arrest warrant, and began running away when detectives approached him, but he fell down.
Officers caught up to him and arrested him.
While he was being placed into custody, Cotton, 31, allegedly began chewing on an “unknown white substance,” police said. He refused police commands to spit it out, and became “physically distressed.”
Paramedics took him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Cotton’s family and other witnesses said police used excessive force.
“They was beating up Avion. They was tasing him,” his cousin Anita Johnson said. “He wasn’t violent. He wasn’t a gangbanger. Yes, he had been to prison. Yes, he did wrong, but that’s not who he was a person. There’s just things he’s done.”
Witnesses said officers used force on Cotton even though he wasn’t moving.
“He wasn’t fighting them. They was on him, and choking him, macing him,” witness Nicki Flowers said. “When I came out of the house he was laying in the yard with handcuffs on. He couldn’t do nothing, because he had handcuffs on. I had seen eight officers jump out over him. When they was standing over him he wasn’t moving.”
The Lake County Coroner’s office said there were no signs of physical trauma during an autopsy.
“However, multiple bags containing a white rocklike substance were found in his stomach and esophagus,” Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper stated in a press release.
Cotton’s criminal past includes a handful of felony and misdemeanor cases, including several drug allegations.
The coroner’s office will look to toxicology reports to get a better idea of the cause of death, which could take two to two and a half weeks.
Waukegan Police Chief Wayne Walles requested Illinois State Police to investigate Cotton’s death.
Police say they’re reviewing video, including body cam footage, and that all officers involved in the incident remain on active duty.