The way he was handcuffed by police, loaded in a patrol car and wrapped in restraints at the Spokane County Jail killed Mario Lozada, autopsy reports show.
The 28-year-old man died Sept. 3 in a jail cell - less than 10 minutes after he was put in a nylon belt that strapped his arms to his side.
Ruling out a drug overdose, forensic pathologist George Lindholm said Lozada died because of “restraint asphyxiation.”
He called the death accidental.
“The level of methamphetamine in his system was significant, but this was not an overdose,” said Lindholm, who performed the autopsy. “I am certain of that.”
Before being arrested, Lozada fought with Spokane police officers when they showed up at the apartment building where he was partying.
High on methamphetamine, Lozada’s heart was “wound up,” Lindholm said. When police handcuffed him, tension on his chest muscles restricted his breathing.
Lozada then was placed face-down in a patrol car, with his body weight on the muscles he used to breathe, Lindholm said.
At the jail, an “emergency response belt” continued to restrict his movement.
“He couldn’t wind down,” Lindholm said. “This person couldn’t breathe. His chest muscles weren’t allowed to expand and relax.”
Spokane County Sheriff John Goldman wasn’t as quick Wednesday to accept the asphyxiation theory, but refused to elaborate because an investigation into Lozada’s death isn’t complete. Both city and county authorities are looking into the case, he said.
“While the autopsy is complete and the death certificate is in, it’s only part of the investigation,” Goldman said. “There’s a lot we still don’t know the answers to yet.”
Goldman said jailers have used the restraint belt for two years to prevent inmates from hurting themselves or others when they struggle. They used it correctly and appropriately on Lozada, he said.
When they noticed he wasn’t breathing, jailers immediately called for help and tried to revive him, Goldman said.
“Our preliminary reports do not show (asphyxiation),” he said, noting that the death certificate prepared by Coroner Dexter Amend contradicts the autopsy results. “But in light of this death, of course we’ll evaluate the use of this restraining device.”
Attorney Carl Maxey said that sooner or later, law enforcement officials are going to have to take responsibility for Lozada’s death.
“They used too many men and too much violence,” said Maxey, who was hired by Lozada’s wife earlier this month. “They didn’t mean to kill him, obviously. But it was done with a lack of regard for the best welfare of this man.”
Maxey said he will file a claim against the city and county on Tina Lozada’s behalf sometime next week.
“The manner about which he was restrained killed Mario Lozada,” Maxey said. “These are not my personal opinions I’m giving here. These are facts.”