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Autopsy Initiative

Free Autopsies for Police-Related Deaths

Autopsy Initiative Definitions

The Autopsy Initiative (“Initiative”) applies to police-related deaths and in-custody deaths, which are defined in detail below.  This Initiative refers to deaths that occur within the prison industrial complex. The prison industrial complex describes the “overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.” [1]



A police-related death is not solely limited to acts of police but also includes acts by various law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers are “responsible for enforcing laws, maintaining public order, and managing public safety.”[2] Thus, a police-related death includes acts by police officers, sheriffs, correctional officers, state troopers, highway patrol officers, ICE, border patrol, and other law enforcement agents.


A police-related death occurs when an individual “dies as a result of being shot, beaten, restrained, intentionally hit by a police vehicle, pepper sprayed, tasered, or otherwise harmed by police officers, whether on-duty or off-duty.”[3] If the officer is off duty, the police must be acting in their law enforcement capacity or in a manner where a reasonable person would believe that the individual was acting as a police officer.

  1. Critical Resistance “What is the PIC? What is Abolition?”

  2.  Mapping Police Violence Database, “About the Data”

  3.  Find Law Staff, “Excessive Force and Police Brutality”,

  4.  10 CFR § 1047.7 



In-custody deaths include, but are not limited to, deaths that occur within a municipal or county jail, state prison, federal prison, boot camp prisons, detention centers, or other local or state correctional facilities, including juvenile detention facilities. In-custody deaths include “deaths in which the circumstances of the death place the decedent in either direct or indirect contact with law enforcement, such as incarceration, apprehension, and pursuit,”[4] along with legal intervention deaths. Deaths in-custody encompass the “death of any person who is detained, under arrest, or is in the process of being arrested, is en route to being incarcerated or is incarcerated.”[5]
In-custody deaths subcategories include “arrest, transport, booking, incarceration, and health care.”[6] An in-custody death during an arrest “takes place during a physical struggle to apprehend an individual.”[7] Deaths that occur while transporting an individual from the scene to jail or hospital falls into the transport subcategory of in-custody deaths.[8] A booking involves the “time when an individual is transferred from the custody of the arresting officer to that of the correctional agency and is being processed and temporarily housed prior to placement in a jail cell.”[9] Incarceration occurs when the individual is placed in a jail cell and “continues through sentencing into incarceration.”[10] “If an individual is transferred to a hospital while incarcerated, [they are] still considered to be in legal custody.”[11]
Pre-custody deaths may also meet the requirements of an in-custody death if “there is a perceived restraint of [their] freedom of movement.”[12] “The pre-custody category includes all deaths that occur prior to the physical restraint associated with arrest (i.e., apprehension).”[13] Pre-custody deaths may also include deaths that arise during an investigatory detention, an automobile stop, or an evidentiary search and seizure by a law enforcement officer. A seizure occurs when an “officer restrains the freedom of a person to walk away.”[14]

[1]  Critical Resistance “What is the PIC? What Is Abolition?”
[2] Bureau of Justice Statistics: Law Enforcement
[3]  Mapping Police Violence Database, “About the Data”
[5] Id.
[6] Id. at 607. 
[7]  Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id. at 608.
[12] Id. at 607.
[13] Id.
[14] Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 7 (1985) citing United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878, 95 S. Ct. 2574, 2578, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975).


Police Related Death
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