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Autopsy Finds Outdoor Heat and Complications From Illegal Stimulants Cause Death of 19-Year-Old After Arrest

District Attorney Steve Mulroy, speaking at a press conference June 11, 2024, said that officers acted appropriately while arresting Courtney Ross.
Katie Riordan/WKNO-FM
District Attorney Steve Mulroy, speaking at a press conference June 11, 2024, said that officers acted appropriately while arresting Courtney Ross.

A state autopsy says that a 19-year-old Memphis man who was taken into custody after a foot chase with police last August died from a combination of environmental heat exposure and complications from multiple illegal substances detected in his system.

The medical examiner in charge of the report classified Courtney Ross’ death as accidental.

The Memphis Police Department previously said officers were called to a Midtown neighborhood August 11, 2023 to investigate complaints that Ross was allegedly rummaging through boxes and other items on private property.

He reportedly ran from police and resisted arrest. Once in the squad car, officers noted Ross appeared to be exhausted and called an ambulance, which transported him to an area hospital.

He was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later, according to the autopsy.

The autopsy findings say that Ross died with an elevated internal temperature and had cocaine, methamphetamine and alcohol in his bloodstream. He also had an inherited blood disorder called sickle cell trait that made him more susceptible to “exertional heat-related illnesses” such as heat stroke, the medical examiner stated.

The report also notes that Ross was wearing a dark long-sleeve shirt and pants when he exerted himself running from officers on a summer day with a heat index of 106 degrees.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Tuesday that his office’s review of the arrest found no negligence on the part of law enforcement.

“He was resisting arrest, you know biting people, things of that nature. And the officers did check on him regularly,” Mulroy said at a routine press conference. “There wasn’t any gross neglect happening. He was restrained appropriately. He was detained appropriately. They were trying to get an ambulance to come.”

Mulroy added paramedics arrived just as officers realized Ross was unresponsive.

The District Attorney’s office intends to release body camera footage from the arrest but Mulroy did not provide a firm date. Although, he added that Ross’ family had a chance to review it.

The family had previously called for a release of any footage at a gathering last year, alongside civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

Crump’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

Katie is a part-time WKNO contributor. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org