A man who became unresponsive while being arrested by Dubuque police died of “sudden cardiac arrest following (an) altercation with other individuals,” according to his death certificate.
An associate state medical examiner classified the death of Chad R. Cupps, 43, of Manchester, Iowa, as a “homicide.”
However, the Iowa Medical Examiner’s Office and the Dubuque Police Department said that designation does not necessarily mean a crime was committed.
“Although a death ruled a homicide by the medical examiner may be murder, it may also be the result of a lawful act,” the Police Department said in a statement.
Cupps’ death certificate also notes “other significant conditions” included blunt-force head injuries, recent methamphetamine use, arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease and schizoaffective disorder.
But police spokesman Lt. Scott Baxter said investigative documents, including an autopsy report, noted recent use of amphetamine — not methamphetamine — and that the death certificate was in error.
Meanwhile, the Dubuque County Attorney’s Office continues to review the case.
“We haven’t finished the investigation,” County Attorney Ralph Potter said.
Dubuque police were called to Shannon’s Sports Bar, 521 E. 22nd St, at about 1:45 a.m. May 7 after it was reported that a man entered the business and started assaulting patrons.
When officers arrived on scene, Cupps was being restrained by patrons.
Officers then took over attempts to restrain Cupps, but he resisted, officials said. Officers pepper-sprayed Cupps to get him to comply, but once he was handcuffed, he became unresponsive. He was uncuffed and CPR was given until paramedics arrived.
Cupps was taken by ambulance to Finley, where he was pronounced dead. His death certificate lists his time of death as 2:21 a.m.
Bar owner Rick Shannon previously told the TH that staff members reported that Cupps “came in the door harassing people and jumped behind the bar.” He said his bartenders already had stopped serving drinks for the night before Cupps arrived.
The police statement said Cupps’ death was classified as a homicide because “another person was involved in the death, but this death classification does not necessarily mean a crime occurred.”
The options available for a medical examiner to list as “manner of death” include natural, suicide, accidental, homicide and undetermined.
John Kraemer, director of forensics for the Iowa Medical Examiner’s Office, agreed that the medical definition of homicide states that the actions of a person led to or contributed to a person’s death.
“Homicide (in our use) does not imply criminal activity at all,” he said.
The police statement said all investigative materials were given to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation for an independent review.
“The Dubuque County Attorney’s Office was also provided all investigative materials and will determine the course, and potentially the outcome, of the ongoing investigation,” the statement added.
Potter said his staff received the medical examiner’s report but still is waiting to receive additional reports. He did not return a follow-up call asking which reports are outstanding.
Baxter said given the “severity of the outcome” in this case, external investigations by county and state officials were warranted.
Asked about the reference to “blunt-force head injuries,” Baxter said he was not aware of officers causing those. He noted that Cupps was in altercations with several bar patrons before officers arrived, which is another reason why the county attorney’s office is involved.
“There was significant contact (between Cupps and others) before our arrival, so the county attorney’s office can sort out who is responsible for what activities and injuries and if there was a criminal intent.”
Baxter said that, per department policy, all officers fill out reports every time force is used in the field. Those reports are reviewed by several officials, including the police chief, to ensure there are no policy breaches.
“To my knowledge, there were no indications that the officers (involved) operated outside of policy and procedure,” Baxter said.
He would not provide the name of the officers involved in Cupps’ arrest, saying records showed three officers and a commander were involved in the call.
An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation official said in July that its investigation was ongoing and that the agency was “consulting” with Dubuque police about the incident. That official did not return a call Tuesday seeking an update.