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Salt Lake City police explain how a handcuffed man fell over a stair railing and died two weeks later

(Video still from Salt Lake City police footage) Body camera footage shows Salt Lake City police officers escorting Robert Martinez out of his apartment after a domestic-violence incident on the early morning of Sunday, April 7, 2019. Moments later, Martinez went over a staircase railing and fell about 10 feet to the pavement below. He died on April 20 from a head injury sustained in the fall.

An April domestic violence call ended with a man falling over a railing while handcuffed and he died two weeks later from head injuries, Salt Lake City police said Monday as they released body camera footage of the arrest.

The footage, taken April 7, shows Robert Martinez, 38, being escorted out of his apartment by police. He takes four steps alongside an officer, then seems to lean over the railing. One of the officers is heard to say “Oh, s---“ when Martinez goes over the railing, falling about 10 feet.

Martinez was treated at the scene for a head injury, hospitalized and underwent surgery. He died April 20.

Because Martinez fell while in custody, Salt Lake City police are treating his death as an “officer-involved critical incident,” the second of three in the department this year. Unlike shootings by police, no officers were put on administrative leave, police said.

Salt Lake County’s Unified Police Department and the District Attorney’s office are investigating the arrest and fall, as is Salt Lake City’s internal affairs office.

The arrest was the culmination of a domestic violence call made at 11:42 p.m. on Saturday, April 6. On the 911 call, which Salt Lake City police also released Monday, a woman is heard screaming and yelling, apparently as Martinez was trying to take away her phone. The woman told the dispatcher that Martinez had put a blanket over her head, and was hitting her.

A bit later, the woman is out on the curb, explaining more calmly to the dispatcher that “he’s been holding me hostage in his house for a couple of hours.” Martinez and his victim both lived in the second-story apartment at 204 E. Browning Ave., in the Liberty Wells neighborhood of Salt Lake City, police said.

Police were dispatched at 11:47 p.m. and arrived five minutes later. Martinez refused to open the door, and an officer talked to Martinez for 30 minutes to de-escalate the situation. After that discussion, Martinez unlocked the door, and explained his side of the story. Martinez complained of pain in his leg from an old injury, and officers called in a medical team at 12:28 a.m.

After the medical team cleared Martinez, officers arrested him for unlawful detention, domestic violence-related assault, aggravated assault and disruption of a communications device. The video shows Martinez crying as police explain the charges and put handcuffs on him.

“No matter how much you cry or beg, it’s not going to change anything, OK?” an officer calmly tells Martinez. “We’re trying to be adults about it, and tell you what’s going on.”

The video shows the officers slowly leading the handcuffed Martinez out of the apartment and down the stairs. An officer says, “Nice and slow, 'k? Not in any hurry.” Then, in an instant, Martinez goes over the railing.

On the ground, Martinez was unconscious but regained consciousness. A medical team was called in, while officers talked to Martinez and told him to remain still so he wouldn’t hurt his neck or spine. When the medical team arrived, officers removed Martinez’ handcuffs. The medical crew determined Martinez was ambulatory, and he was helped onto a gurney and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where his injuries were determined to be more severe than the on-site crew first believed.

Martinez underwent surgery, but he eventually died from the head trauma.

Martinez had a long criminal history, police reported, including convictions for burglary, criminal mischief, possession of drug paraphernalia, felony fraud, theft and interfering with a police officer. On April 9, two days after Martinez was hospitalized, West Valley City police filed a shoplifting charge against Martinez, claiming he took a watch from a Walmart on March 19.

(Photo courtesy Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office) Robert James Martinez, seen here in a booking photo at the Salt Lake County jail in 2017, died April 20, 2019, from injuries suffered in a fall from a staircase while being arrested on charges related to a domestic-violence incident on April 7, 2019, in Salt Lake City.

Capt. Jeff Kendrick, who presented the body camera footage at a news conference Monday, said that the Salt Lake City police have responded to 922 reports of domestic violence so far in 2019.

Police urged anyone caught in a domestic-violence situation to call them at 801-799-3000 and ask for a victim advocate, or call the department’s 24-hour hotline, at 801-580-7969. People can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or the Utah LINKLine, at 1-800-897-5465 for confidential assistance.

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