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It may take weeks to learn why suspect in police custody died

It may take as long as six weeks for authorities to determine what caused the death of a Buffalo man who police say stopped breathing while fighting with officers Tuesday night on the city's West Side.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Thursday that the autopsy conducted Wednesday morning did not identify what killed Wardel Davis, 20, and that police are now waiting for the results of toxicology tests.

There's no sign he was shot. His girlfriend told The Buffalo News Wednesday that Davis had been sick with a cold and had asthma and was planning on going to the hospital late Tuesday.

In the meantime, the Buffalo police investigation into what happened late Tuesday night on Hoyt Street, near Arnold Street, continued. A second investigation by the state Attorney General's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit was underway.

"Our office is committed to conducting a fair, comprehensive, and independent investigation to provide Mr. Davis' family with the answers they deserve," said  Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the AG's office. "We encourage anyone with relevant information to contact our Buffalo office."

Late Tuesday night, Davis was stopped in front of a 19 Hoyt St. house by two uniformed Central District officers – Todd C. McAlister and Nicholas J. Parisi. According to their attorney, Thomas J. Burton, the house was known for drug activity and the officers knew Davis.

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Police records show that the same officers arrested Davis on Nov. 8 on Arnold Street, about two blocks from the scene of the deadly encounter. Davis was scheduled to appear in City Court Wednesday on misdemeanor drug charges stemming from that arrest. His girlfriend told The Buffalo News that Davis expected to be sent to jail by the judge.

Parisi had at least one other encounter with Davis last year, according to police records. He arrested Davis on South Putnam Place on Jan. 29, 2016, around the block from Davis' apartment on West  Ferry Street. Parisi pulled Davis over in a car that had been reported stolen out of North Tonawanda. Davis was also found in possession of two bags of marijuana.

Tuesday night, McAlister and Parisi were on "routine patrol" when they stopped Davis on Hoyt Street, Derenda said. They were not responding to a 911 call, according to the commissioner. It remained unclear Thursday why the officers were at the location on Hoyt and why they stopped Davis. Both questions were part of the investigation, Derenda said.

According to their attorney, officers saw Davis coming out of 19 Hoyt St. with his hand in or near his pocket and told him to put his hands where they could see them. When they went to handcuff him, Burton said, Davis took a swing at them and tried to flee. Davis fought with the officers until they were able to cuff him. As they were bringing him up to his feet, they saw he was in distress. They uncuffed him and began CPR, Burton said. Davis was taken by ambulance to Buffalo General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

No shots were fired during the encounter, police said.

McAlister and Parisi are both 32 years old. Parisi has been a police officer since January 2008. McAlister joined the force in January 2013. Previously he worked as a legislative assistant with the Buffalo Common Council.

Related story: Man, 20, dies after battling with Buffalo police during arrest


News staff reporters Aaron Besecker and Susan Schulman contributed to this report.

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