Officer Houston Tipping suffered lethal injuries during training exercise. The attorney for his family says it was no accident.
Controversy and competing statements surround the May 29, 2022, death of LAPD Officer Houston Tipping. Bradley Gage, the attorney for Tipping’s mother, recently alleged that Tipping had been involved in an investigation of the man who killed him during a training exercise.
On May 26, 2022, Tipping was instructing a class for LAPD officers and sustained catastrophic injuries during the training. Tipping worked for LAPD for five years and patrolled the Devonshire area. He died in a one-on-one exercise, portraying the role of a suspect confronting a police officer during a “415 Man” training.
According to an LAPD report on Tipping’s death, 415 Man scenario training includes situations officers face when a suspect is violating Section 415 of the California Penal Code. 415PC is a misdemeanor charge which includes playing excessively loud music, fighting in public, or using certain offensive language. According to a report from LAPD on Tipping’s death, the instructor assumes the role of the suspect in a 415 Man training. The student carries an imitation firearm and foam baton.
Tipping’s role was to advance on a student in a verbally threatening manner. Though the scenario usually includes an imitation knife, the report notes that there is no evidence Tipping had one during the exercise. The report notes that “students are not supposed to attempt to take the roleplaying instructors into custody, but rather use their preexisting arrest and control skills … to defend themselves.”
The report describes a quickly developing scenario. Tipping approached an officer during the training and went to the ground after being struck by a foam baton in the leg. Tipping then “re-engaged,” and moved toward the perimeter of the room. Noticing they had moved, an instructor restarted the exercise. Tipping then attempted what several officers stated looked like an attempt at a “double leg takedown,” or possibly a bear hug. The officer grappling with Tipping then clutched his bicep around Tipping’s head. Both officers fell to the floor, and Tipping appeared to struggle to speak while his body movements seemed “unusual.” Tipping appeared to attempt to mouth the words “I can’t breathe.” Knock LA has not been able to independently verify many of LAPD’s claims. The LAPD did not respond to a request for further information on this story.
During the medical response, officers were apparently unable to immediately locate several critical medical devices. An officer began administering CPR. The CPR mask had to be retrieved from a nearby vehicle belonging to officers. Officers reported “confusion” in the report in attempting to find an automatic defibrillator. One officer states in the report that even after the defibrillator was located, it did not deliver a shock — the report claims this was because Tipping had regained a pulse at the time. Paramedics arrived and were able to restore a pulse after giving Tipping medications and a ventilation tube.
Tipping was then transferred to USC Medical Center, where he received emergency spinal surgery. Three days later, he died in the hospital.
Gage is suing the department in a wrongful death suit, which includes several other allegations. While some of the facts of Tipping’s death are agreed upon, LAPD and Gage disagree wildly on a number of the conclusions.
In both a press conference and legal filings, Gage has alleged Tipping may have been killed as retribution for his role in an investigation of a rape by four police officers in July 2021. He told Knock LA that Tipping took a report from a female victim who identified four officers that had raped her while wearing LAPD uniforms and name tags. Gage says that one of these alleged rapists was present during the training exercise where Tipping died. Gage also states in filings that Tipping reported an officer bringing a chocolate penis to work as an attempt at a joke, furthering allegations that Tipping’s death could have been the result of payback.
An autopsy report on Tipping determined that his death was an “accident,” and the cause of death as a spinal cord injury. The coroner’s report makes mention of several cuts and lacerations to the head due to clamps being placed on Tipping during emergency surgery, but Gage claims that they are evidence of a physical fight. In June 2022, LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners that “Officer Tipping did not sustain any laceration to the head” and “was also not struck or beaten during this training session.”
While LAPD’s report claims that no video of Tipping’s death exists, Gage contends that there is a “practice for filming these events … because that’s how people get trained.” Gage provided Knock LA with three videos of Tipping he claims are of training exercises. Two appear to be Tipping riding a bicycle alongside other officers. Another shows fellow officers using a stun gun on Tipping.
Much of LAPD’s top brass took to social media after Gage made his claims regarding payback public. Chief Moore tweeted a response to FOX 11 LA’s story by calling it “an absolutely baseless claim.” Steve Soboroff, a member of the Police Commission, even took to Twitter to like the post. Soboroff, along with the rest of the commission, would be in charge of any discipline any officers would receive.
Commander Steve Lurie, who heads LAPD’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy (OCPP), said, “Social media has so many benefits, and so much value in the sharing of information. One of the major downsides is its ability to replicate and disseminate incredibly hurtful falsehoods such as these.”
There are several moments where the OCPP’s interviews show contradictions. Several officer-instructors are quoted as hearing an instructor tell Tipping and the student to break before hitting the floor. The report mentions that none of the students said they’d heard the command. A sergeant, the highest-ranked officer mentioned as being near the incident in the report, states he was at his desk at the moment of impact and “he could not observe the area where the scenarios were being conducted.”
Several officers in the report state that Tipping attempted a “double leg takedown,” others characterized it as a “bear hug,” and several others describe Tipping attempting to assist the other officer by holding him to restore balance. How witnesses could differ so wildly on the actual physical action which led to Tipping’s death is unclear.
OCPP’s report describes investigators coming to the conclusion that it was a “double leg takedown,” based on the “totality of the interviews.” But other than mentioning the investigators “included their perceptions based on [the witnesses’] vantage points,” the report does not go into detail regarding how they came to that conclusion.
If an officer portraying a suspect is killed during a training, it certainly could cause concern for those tactics being used in the field. As LAPD and Gage wage a war of competing information alongside civil litigation, more facts will likely be released regarding Tipping’s death.
While LAPD did make recommendations regarding future training, it’s important to note the report makes mention that the inquiry “did not identify any single step that … would have conclusively prevented Officer Tipping’s death.” This could potentially cause concern that another similar event could happen again.