Family to press case of man who died at Winslow police's hands

Keith Briscoe refused an officer's request to move from a store, police say.
Keith Briscoe refused an officer's request to move from a store, police say.
Posted: June 29, 2010

Sunny Briscoe is now certain of one detail about her brother's death: He suffocated.

The Camden County medical examiner has concluded that Keith Briscoe, 36, of Waterford, died from traumatic asphyxia - suffocation - after a struggle with police and civilians outside a Winslow convenience store last month, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office said Monday.

Briscoe's death has been ruled a homicide, the spokesman, Jason Laughlin, said.

"It confirms our suspicions. He did not die of natural causes. His death was caused by someone else," Stanley King, the Briscoe family's attorney, said on Monday.

"He was a healthy young man," Sunny Briscoe said.

Keith Briscoe's death on May 3 at the Wawa store where he was a regular customer could have been avoided, family members say.

Authorities have said Keith Briscoe, who was found in his 20s to have schizophrenia, refused to move from outside the store on Berlin-Cross Keys Road after Winslow Officer Sean Richards saw him loitering.

Briscoe stopped breathing after a brief struggle with Richards, at least four other officers, and three civilians, authorities said.

The confrontation took about six minutes, according to Laughlin. Officers performed CPR and used a defibrillator on Briscoe until an ambulance arrived, officials said.

Richards, who was on his way into the Wawa around 8:30 a.m., told Briscoe to move after he saw him smoking and panhandling "partially in the entrance," according to Timothy Quinlan, an attorney for the police union that represents Winslow officers.

Richards came out of the store and again asked Briscoe to leave, but he refused, Quinlan said.

Three civilians joined in the subsequent struggle, and Richards sprayed Briscoe with Mace, the Prosecutor's Office said last month. Officers from Winslow, Berlin, and Pine Hill arrived to assist Richards, authorities said. Briscoe was in handcuffs when he stopped breathing, according to officials.

The Prosecutor's Office would not say Monday whether Briscoe had been panhandling, a detail not included in the agency's earlier description of the confrontation.

Richards, a 12-year police veteran who has been with the Winslow force for five years, has been on leave since Briscoe's death, Winslow Capt. Michael Bartuccio said.

Briscoe was not a violent man, his family has said. He went to the Wawa regularly to buy a soda with money his mother had given him and he did not need to beg, they said.

Family members said Briscoe would smoke a cigarette outside the store as he drank the soda, before he walked to the nearby Steininger Behavioral Care Services for treatment three times a week.

King said the Prosecutor's Office told the family that a surveillance camera captured Briscoe in the store making his purchase. Laughlin could not say whether there was tape of Briscoe inside, but he said there was no surveillance recording of the scuffle.

No one from the store had complained about Briscoe, Laughlin said.

"The officer didn't want him there," said Sunny Briscoe, 30. "He didn't like the looks of him. It was all his decision."

Quinlan disagreed. "It had nothing to do with Briscoe's looks or his age or his weight or his color," he said. "It had everything to do with the fact that he was panhandling and didn't move."

The Prosecutor's Office is investigating, Laughlin said.

The family hopes that the prosecutor, and eventually the state attorney general, will file charges against all those involved, according to one relative.

"All eight of these individuals had a part in Keith's murder," said Gordon P. Sunkett, Briscoe's cousin and vice president of the South Jersey chapter of the National Action Network, the civil rights organization headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The network and family members organized a march from Steininger to the Wawa last month and a 36-hour vigil in June. On July 17, another march will take place from Steininger to the Wawa.

"The memory is not going to die. It's in us," Sunny Briscoe said.


Contact staff writer Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or dsimon@phillynews.com.

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