Video shows Arkansas police saying 'If you can talk, you can breathe' before man dies in custody

An Arkansas police officer during a February arrest told a man who later died in police custody, "If you can talk, you can breathe," according to newly released footage.

The police department in Conway, Ark., released edited footage of the arrest Wednesday, according to a local CBS affiliate. During the incident, police placed Lionel Morris, 39, and a second man under arrest after a call reporting they had removed a drone from its packaging in a Harp’s store.

Morris fled from officers, who tackled him in a different part of the store, tasing him several times while trying to subdue him. Conway Police Chief William Tapley has claimed Morris reached for a knife clipped to his pocket, but at that point, the footage cuts to a security camera in a corner of the store.


As an officer places his knee against Morris’s back, Morris can be heard saying he is unable to breathe, while the officer responds, “If you can talk, you can breathe.” Prosecuting attorney Carol Crews has said Morris was placed in a “recovery position” and rolled onto his side, but that is not visible in the video.

The police report states Morris was moved to a recovery position after beginning to vomit and that he was “pulseless and unresponsive” by the time medical personnel arrived. He was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead.

Crews has said no charges should be filed against the officers. She attributed his death to "methamphetamine intoxication with exertion, struggle, restraint and conducted electrical weapon deployment."

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, made similar remarks while kneeling on Floyd’s neck, according to transcripts obtained by The Washington Post. At one point in the transcript, Chauvin tells Floyd, “Takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to say that.”

Medical experts have disputed the idea that people who are genuinely unable to breathe cannot talk.

“To speak, you only have to move air through the upper airways and the vocal cords, a very small amount,” Gary Weissman, a lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Washington Post earlier this month.

"This does not necessarily mean enough air is reaching the lungs," he added.