The family of a 21-year-old Camden man and law enforcement officials agree on one thing: Xavier Ingram ended up paralyzed after an encounter with police Thursday night.
They disagree sharply on how it happened.
The family alleges that Ingram, who is awaiting a son next month and is the father of a 2-year-old girl, was beaten by officers of the Camden County Police. Authorities say they have video to prove that there was no beating, and that Ingram hurt himself when he slipped on wet pavement and fell as officers chased him for allegedly carrying a handgun.
Ingram, police said, had a loaded 10mm semiautomatic handgun and four bags of heroin. He was charged with a number of offenses, including unlawful possession of a weapon and resisting arrest.
On Friday, his family gathered in disbelief at the apartment near Seventh and Chestnut Streets where he lives and grew up with his grandmother. Rumors spread quickly around the Bergen Square neighborhood, where residents have a fragile relationship with police, particularly since officers shot and wounded a 28-year-old man there who allegedly fired at them in April.
Ingram's aunt Tonya Adams, 40, said she wasn't sure whether Ingram had drugs or a gun when officers chased him.
"I think he should go to jail if he had one," she said. "But he shouldn't be paralyzed from the neck down."
Marcus James, 24, who described Ingram as "my best friend," said he was with Ingram during the incident, and that he saw several officers dive onto Ingram and shove his neck to the ground. He said he didn't see Ingram with a gun.
"I don't trust them at all," James said of the police. "I'm scared of when they come around."
Adams said she and other family members did not see the chase, but talked to people afterward who said that officers had beaten Ingram once he fell. One man who told The Inquirer he saw the incident compared it to a "gang beat down."
Authorities offered a different account.
"Ingram's tragic injury appears to be an accident of his own accord," Police Chief Scott Thomson said in a written statement Friday. "The arresting officers displayed composure throughout the incident and had the presence of mind to immediately render aid and summon medical assistance."
The Camden County Prosecutor's Office said it was investigating because of the severity of Ingram's injuries.
In a news release Friday, it said a police officer spotted Ingram around 9:45 holding his waistband "in a way that indicated he may have been carrying a gun."
The officer heard something metallic hit the ground when Ingram walked between two parked cars, and then saw Ingram walking away and not holding his waistband, the Prosecutor's Office said. The officer, it said, then found a handgun, which had apparently been reported stolen from Gloucester Township.
After finding the handgun, officers spotted Ingram again as he left a liquor store and gave chase. About a half-block away, Ingram fell, and then told officers he could not feel his legs, the Prosecutor's Office said. An ambulance came in four minutes, it said.
Family members said that when they arrived at the scene, an officer told them that a sergeant had taken Ingram to police headquarters - not the hospital. Assuming he just had cuts and bruises from the chase, his family left and waited for a call from him from jail.
About 45 minutes later, they said, they instead received a call from Cooper University Hospital, with a nurse telling them that Ingram's neck was broken. Adams, his aunt, said she burst through a door and yelled to Ingram's grandmother, referring to police, "They broke his neck!"
Ingram's family members said they were not allowed to see him Thursday night or Friday afternoon because he was in police custody at the hospital. Early Friday evening, they said they were still waiting.
Much of the information about Ingram's condition came from phone calls from the hospital, his family said.
"They are hopeful that he will be able to recover because of his age," said one of his aunts, Shareefah Abdur-Rahmaan, 44. "But then there is that slim shadow of darkness" that he may not be able to walk again.
Police and the Prosecutor's Office said surveillance video captured Ingram's chase and arrest, and that it did not show excessive force or police misconduct.
Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office, said the footage may be released once the investigation is complete.