© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Frank Tyson's family, Rev. Al Sharpton call for justice at funeral

Frank Tyson's fiancée Sibrena Jones, center, looks down as Rev. Al Sharpton (left) and Ben Crump (right) comfort her behind a podium with the word "peace" on top.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Frank Tyson's fiancée, Sibrena Jones (center), speaks at his funeral on May 8, 2024, as Rev. Al Sharpton (left) and family attorney Ben Crump (right) comfort her.

Mourners at the funeral of Frank Tyson on Wednesday remembered the 53 year old who died in April while being arrested by Canton police.

Tyson had just been released from prison after serving 24 years on a kidnapping charge. Tyson's family and attorneys say he was innocent of that kidnapping charge. Proving his innocence was important to Tyson, family attorney Ben Crump, who represented the family of George Floyd and other high profile victims of police killings, said.

"He was fighting for his innocence every day of his life even until the very last day he was planning to go see a lawyer in Cleveland," he said.

Tyson's fiancée, Sibrena Jones, who stayed with him through his prison sentence, mourned that his life got cut short.

A person reads Frank Tyson's obituary.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Frank Tyson's obituary described him as a Christian, an avid reader who loved newspapers and encyclopedias and a sports fan who enjoyed spending time with his family and friends and wanted to clear his name. His funeral was held on May 8, 2024.

"We only had 13 days before they took his life away again, which was sad, because he had a future coming," she said. "He was working on his future. He wanted to go to work, he told me."

Tyson's youngest brother, John Tyson, remembered Tyson as his protector.

"But, that night, I should possibly maybe been there to protect him. But I wasn't," he said.

John recounted the day he got the call that Tyson had died and was asked by the city to come in and review the body camera footage before it was released to the public.

"The video you guys seen is nothing compared to what the family's seen," he said. "A lot of things is bleeped out."

When John and the family arrived to meet with the city, the body camera footage was already on the TV screen, he said. He felt "ambushed."

Tyson was fleeing from a crash site on the east side of Canton on April 18. Officers encountered him at an AMVETS building around 8:30 pm, where they say he resisted arrest. As officers struggled to pin him to the ground and handcuff him, one officer pressed his knee into Tyson's back.

He repeatedly yelled, "I can't breathe." Body camera footage shows Tyson lying motionless on the ground for seven minutes after being handcuffed before officers began administering CPR. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

"I've even laid on the ground myself with my hands to my back not even handcuffed and tried to lay there for five minutes. I couldn't even do it," John said. "I tried to say I couldn't breathe at the same time seven times in a minute. I couldn't even really do it. It seemed like eternity."

Family members of other victims killed or injured by police from around the country attended the funeral to support the Tyson family, including Michael Brown Sr., whose son was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police; Jacob Blake Sr., whose son was shot and injured by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police; Selwyn and Terrence Floyd, uncle and brother of George Floyd; Tiffany Rochelle, mother of Jalen Randle who was shot and killed by Houston police; Sabrina Foster, mother of former NFL player Glenn Foster who died after being taken into police custody in Alabama; and Andrew Joseph Jr., father of Andrew Joseph III who was shot and killed by law enforcement in Tampa.

Tyson's death has sparked renewed calls for police reform in Canton.

Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton gave Tyson's eulogy and said the officers responsible for Tyson's death need to be brought to justice.

"When I'm riding into Canton, they talk about this being the hall of fame for the NFL," he said. "If you can't do justice for Frank, you will be hall of shame around this country."

He questioned why the officers treated Tyson poorly.

"Show me in your procedure where you put your knee on his back," Sharpton said. "Show me in the manual. Or when he begs for his life and you tell him to shut the 'f' up."

Tyson family attorney Ben Crump speaks at his funeral with attorney Bobby DiCello behind him.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Tyson family attorney Ben Crump (right) speaks at his funeral on May 8, 2024, with attorney Bobby DiCello behind him.

Crump likened Tyson's death to George Floyd's.

"The reality is this y'all: Eric Gardner said, 'I can't breathe,' and they ignored him," he said. "And then George Floyd said, 'I can't breathe." And they told him, 'Well if you're talking, then you're breathing.'"

Tyson's death is a test for Canton, Sharpton said.

"How they handle this Frank Tyson case will set law in this city," Sharpton said. "Because if they walk away free, I'm talking about the cops that did that did this to him, it will set a precedent that next time it will be your child."

Sharpton criticized media for focusing on Tyson's past.

"Frank Tyson, they can write all they want about his background in the paper," he said. "Write the background of the policeman. He was the one paid by taxpayer dollars."

Crump asked the community to donate to a legal defense fund to prove Tyson's innocence.

Rev. Al Sharpton (right) stands at the pulpit giving the eulogy at Frank Tyson's funeral. Tyson's casket lays beneath the pulpit. Family lawyers Ben Crump (far left) and Bobby DiCello (right) look on.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Rev. Al Sharpton (right) gives the eulogy at Frank Tyson's funeral on May 8, 2024.

"His family, not only do they want to get justice for this wrongful death, but they want to continue what Frank was doing," he said. "And they want to have the lawyers keep filing the pleadings to make sure that he is exonerated."

Sharpton presented a $10,000 check from his organization, the National Action Network, to the Tyson family to pay for funeral expenses.

The NAACP has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for a federal investigation into the Canton Police Department. The officers involved are on administrative leave.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.