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Authorities say an L.A. officer’s death was a ‘tragic accident.’ His family claims he was fatally beaten.

NBC News 10/6/2022 Tim Stelloh

Authorities released a report Tuesday describing the death of a Los Angeles police officer during a training exercise as a “tragic accident,” one day after his family said in a wrongful death claim that he was fatally beaten for uncovering "allegations that LAPD officers engaged in rape."

The internal inquiry, conducted by investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department, found that there was “no single step” authorities could have taken before officer Houston Tipping’s May 26 injury that would have prevented his death, according to the 13-page report.

Tipping, 32, had taught bicycle patrol skills and had been with the department for five years when he died of a spinal cord injury three days after the incident, according to an autopsy conducted in June by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner.

The inquiry found no recorded video of the exercise or Tipping's fatal injury, the report says.

The exercise that led to Tipping’s death included officers role-playing during a “disturbing the peace” scenario at the department's Elysian Park Academy, according to the report. Tipping, a volunteer adjunct instructor, was playing a suspect — his first time doing so in the scenario, according to the report. 

LAPD Officer Houston Tipping with his mother. (Family Lawyer Bradley Gage) © Family Lawyer Bradley Gage LAPD Officer Houston Tipping with his mother. (Family Lawyer Bradley Gage)

The injury occurred when he approached an officer identified only as "Officer M." and lifted him off the ground, a move investigators determined was an attempted "double leg takedown," according to the report.

The officer wrapped his arm around Tipping's chest and throat — effectively placing him in a headlock — before the pair fell to the floor, the report says. When another officer approached the pair, Tipping mouthed the words, "I can't breathe," but there was no sound, according to the report.

Officers administered CPR and paramedics inserted a ventilation tube, the report says. Before Tipping died at a local hospital, he was paralyzed, according to a wrongful death claim Tipping's mother filed against the city earlier this year.

The claim, which also alleges assault and battery, details other injuries, including multiple head wounds. One required stapling, according to the claim.

A lawyer for Tipping's mother showed images of the injuries from a CT scan to reporters in July.

The claim says Tipping's injuries were from an alleged beating and it called comments from Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore indicating Tipping hadn't suffered head injuries in the incident "untrue."

During a June police commission hearing, Moore said Tipping was not beaten during the training and did not "sustain any type of laceration to his head, any cut or otherwise to his head, as a result of his fall to the ground."

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department declined to comment. The report released Monday says Tipping suffered a head laceration during spinal surgery.

An amended claim filed by Tipping's mother Monday added an accusation of "whistleblower retaliation," alleging the beating was over a report Tipping wrote in July 2021 about LAPD officers accused of raping a woman.

Tipping found the allegations “so distressing” he began applying to other police agencies for work before his death, the claim says.

One of the officers allegedly involved in the sexual assault was at the training and aware of Tipping's report, the claim says. The officer allegedly used it as a cover to kill Tipping, the amended claim says.

The claim does not identify the officer who was allegedly aware of the report or say how the officer became aware of it. It also does not identify any of the officers accused in the assault. The document also says the department did not release the report through a public records request, but "an investigative report does exist, despite the LAPD's denials."

"This investigation was reported up the chain of command which tried to hide and conceal evidence," the document says, without providing additional details to support the claim.

The police spokesman declined to comment.

Lizabeth Rhodes, who led the investigation into Tipping's death and directs the department's Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy, told the police commission Tuesday that she had wide authority to investigate and found no evidence of misconduct, NBC Los Angeles reported.

“I do realize that there is, there are, a number of allegations, for which we have not seen any evidence out there,” she told the commission, according to the station.

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