A Fort Worth police officer finds herself at the intersection of having a career in law enforcement, while also having lost a loved one who was taken into custody by her colleagues.
The death of George Floyd opened old wounds for Tiffany Bunton and her family.
“I’ve had friends reaching out to me as of late and everyone is asking, ‘How are you doing?’” Bunton said.
She’s a 15-year veteran in the Fort Worth Police Department and in 2018 her uncle, Christopher Lowe, died while in the backseat of a Fort Worth police cruiser. She said the same officers she would run to help let her down.
“I wear the same uniform, the absolute same uniform. And I know that they could’ve done better. They could’ve done more,” Bunton said. “They chose not to.”
Her coworkers detained her uncle as he told them he couldn’t breathe. Documents from the city of Fort Worth explain the series of events prior to Lowe's death.
The documents say officers responded to a call about a prowler. Once on the scene, officers began to escort Lowe to a patrol car. While he was being escorted and after being place in the backseat of the car, Lowe told officers he could not breathe. He also told officers he needed to go to the hospital.
The 2019 documents addressed to the Firefighter's and Police Officers Civil Service Commission say officers failed to call an ambulance even after Lowe requested to go to the hospital.
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The documents, signed by Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus, indicate Lowe was in the backseat for 13 minutes before he was found unresponsive.
After the realization that Lowe was unresponsive, several officers pulled Lowe from the car, began to perform CPR and notified Medstar. Lowe was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Cocaine and methamphetamine were found in his system. Lowe's cause of death was said to be “acute cocaine intoxication” and “recent methamphetamine use.”
The officers were found to have violated several general orders and code of conduct including neglect of duty and “acts of showing lack of good moral character.”
Bunton said the days following were difficult, but she was determined to stay on the force.
“We take this job because we want to help people. We want to make positive changes in our communities,” she said.
She also said she understands what an interview like this could mean.
“I’m well aware that I may receive some negative remarks,” she said. “Or people that I thought were my friends beforehand may no longer be my friends after.”
But she said she won’t remain silent. She wants to see a culture shift from within police departments. She wants to see officers show more empathy and compassion to people with different backgrounds and life experiences.
And she said her uncle’s life was much too important for her to quit on that goal.
“He suffered in the back of that patrol car. My family will forever be changed,” Bunton said. “If people don’t recognize it in my profession, then things are just going to continue to get worse.”
We’re told all seven officers were disciplined for policy violations. Five officers were suspended indefinitely. Of those five, three won their jobs back through appeal.
Since the 2018 death of Lowe, changes have been made to policies instructing officers on their “duty to protect” and provide medical attention.