Spokane County Coroner Dexter Amend must change a disputed death certificate he signed last month or go to court to say why he won’t, a judge ruled Friday.
The order was sought by attorneys for Tina Lozada, whose husband died in the Spokane County Jail minutes after he was put in a nylon belt that strapped his arms to his side.
Before being arrested, Mario Lozada fought with Spokane police who showed up at the North Side apartment building where he was partying.
An autopsy performed by pathologist George Lindholm concluded the 28-year-old died from “restraint asphyxiation.”
Lindholm said the syndrome can be fatal to people who are intoxicated or high on drugs and then struggle violently - as Lozada did - with arresting officers.
Lindholm, who is hired by Amend to conduct nearly all of the county’s autopsies, said Lozada was high on methamphetamine but did not overdose. He was tired from fighting with police and couldn’t breathe when officers hog-tied him and put him on his stomach in the back seat of a patrol car, Lindholm said.
Jailers also left Lozada on his stomach in a cell, with his arms and legs restrained.
On Lozada’s death certificate, Amend listed the cause of death as irregular heartbeat due to “methamphetamine intoxication” and previous scaring of the heart. He also noted “restraint/position” as “possibly” contributing to the death.
The coroner filed the document two weeks after the autopsy, which he did not attend.
“The death certificate is an important document,” said Carl Maxey, who was hired along with colleague Dennis Cronin by Lozada’s wife. “The cause of death has been established, but just because Dr. Amend doesn’t like it, he simply changed it. That’s not acceptable.”
Efforts to reach Amend for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
Superior Court Judge Marcus Kelly signed the order, called an “alternative writ of mandate.” It gives Amend one month to change the cause of death on the certificate to reflect Lindholm’s findings.
If he doesn’t, the coroner must appear in court Nov. 13.
Police and Sheriff’s Department officials maintain the restraints used on Lozada were applied correctly. In discussing the case, law enforcement authorities have restated Amend’s conclusion that an overdose caused Lozada’s death.
Last week, Tina Lozada filed three wrongful death claims against the city and county totaling $3 million. One accuses Amend of being prejudiced against Lozada, who was HIV positive. Amend made headlines recently when he publicly declared homosexuality “abnormal” and “sick” and responsible for the spread of AIDS.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo