A police investigative report released last week says Spokane Valley Fire paramedics asked sheriff’s deputies to release Trent Yohe from handcuffs and leg restraints so they could treat the 37-year-old methamphetamine addict after he had stopped breathing.
The report offers new details into the May 1 incident in which Yohe went unconscious and later died in a local hospital after being beaten, Tasered and tied up by sheriff’s deputies.
The report includes these highlights:
•Yohe, who was being arrested on a felony warrant, was Tasered about five times, but up to four may have been delivered without firing the barbs.
•His false teeth were removed by a paramedic and didn’t “fly out of his mouth” after he was kicked by a deputy, as eyewitness Cecile Jones said immediately after the incident.
•Deputies didn’t know Yohe had epilepsy and didn’t tell dispatchers or paramedics that the combative suspect may have had a grand mal seizure after they encountered him sleeping in a travel trailer behind a home at 6811 E. Fifth in Spokane Valley.
•While deputies said they were the ones who first realized Yohe was unconscious and in trouble, the paramedics said the deputies didn’t recognize Yohe’s serious medical problems soon enough.
The newly released report describes a chaotic scene after deputies went to the trailer to arrest Yohe. They also give a glimpse of tension between the deputies and the paramedics who rushed to treat the suspect after he fought violently with deputies and stopped breathing.
Details of the paramedics’ orders to the deputies to remove handcuffs and leg restraints from the unconscious man so they could try to revive him are contained in the Spokane Police Department report obtained by The Spokesman-Review in a public records request.
Paramedic Kip Krogh, one of the firefighters interviewed by Spokane police detectives, said he assumed at first that his Medic 9 unit had been dispatched so they could check on the Tasering of Yohe. But when he asked the deputies to remove Yohe’s handcuffs they hesitated, saying they’d just had a long fight with him.
Krogh’s partner, Dustin Thurman, “again asked the deputies to remove the handcuffs because he was concerned about excited delirium,” a condition described by medical examiners and police in which a suspect under the influence of drugs or mental problems fights violently and then collapses. Since the Yohe incident, sheriff’s deputies are being trained in how to recognize it.
The report released to the newspaper has lengthy blacked-out sections from the statement by another paramedic, Gary Ghirarduzzi. Spokane County records officials redacted the report, citing Yohe’s medical privacy.
After dispatchers called the Fire Department at 9:39 p.m. to respond to a fire in a small travel trailer, paramedics also responded, but “stood off” a block away until informed that Yohe wasn’t responsive. When he arrived, Ghirarduzzi said he asked the deputies to immediately uncuff Yohe, who was lying on the ground after his fight with officers.
“One deputy was hesitant, asking why. He asked a second time … at which point medic Dustin Thurman noticed the subject was in full arrest,” Ghirarduzzi said.
Thurman, a medic assigned to Engine 6, arrived in the back alley just as Medic 9 was arriving. Thurman said he heard Ghirarduzzi ask the deputies twice to take the handcuffs off Yohe. He looked at Yohe and knew he was having “a serious medical problem … it appeared to him that the deputies did not know how serious Yohe’s medical condition was,” the report says.
Thurman then added his voice, telling the deputies to uncuff Yohe “in an authoritative manner.”
Immediately after the incident, The Spokesman-Review attempted to interview paramedics and firefighters after hearing reports of disagreements at the scene.
In early May, Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson said his department personnel couldn’t discuss their involvement because of the pending investigation.
Now that the investigation is completed, the chief again gagged his paramedics last week in an e-mail directive. Thompson told the newspaper he was acting on the advice of his attorney due to “pending litigation” over the controversial arrest of Yohe.
“We’re not trying to protect the police at all,” Thompson said, adding that it’s not uncommon for him to order paramedics not to talk when a lawsuit is threatened.
Breean Beggs, of the public affairs law firm Center for Justice and who is representing Yohe’s estate, said he’s requested records on the incident but has gone no further. As of Friday, “there’s no pending litigation on behalf of Yohe’s estate,” Beggs said.
Joe Dawson, chairman of the Valley Fire Board of Commissioners, said Friday he and the other four elected commissioners had been provided copies of the chief’s e-mail directive forbidding firefighters to talk about the incident. “I will support him on that,” Dawson said.
The newspaper was seeking interviews with Ghirarduzzi, Krogh and Thurman – the Valley Fire paramedics most directly involved in the incident. Yohe never regained consciousness and died at Sacred Heart Medical Center on May 13 after he was declared brain-dead and removed from a respirator.
According to the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, Yohe died as a result of not getting enough oxygen to his brain for several reasons, including the drugs in his system, heart disease and how he was restrained. It also mentions “excited delirium” as a contributing factor.
His in-custody death was ruled a homicide by the Medical Examiner’s Office. Homicide means death at the hands of another, but the law recognizes that homicide may not include criminal intent, such as in justifiable or excusable homicide.
Deputies involved in the fight with Yohe include Michael Wall, Scott Bonney, Griffin Criswell and K-9 Officer John Cook.
The deputies claim they were the ones who first realized Yohe was unconscious and in trouble. But the paramedics said the deputies didn’t recognize Yohe’s serious medical problems soon enough.
Because the incident involved sheriff’s deputies, Spokane police detectives were called in to investigate under a reciprocal critical-fatal protocol invoked by Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. Sheriff’s detectives “shadowed” the investigation.
On July 2, the Spokane Police Department forwarded the investigation results to Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker without recommending charges against any of the deputies. Knezovich said Friday he hadn’t finished reading the report but believes his deputies acted appropriately.
When the first deputies on the scene entered the trailer, “Yohe’s arms were twitching violently and his feet were flopping around. … (he) was lying face up and his eyes were closed,” according to Cook’s statement.
Bonney grabbed Yohe’s hand during the seizure and he “instantly started throwing punches and kicking violently,” according to Bonney, who was punched in the face. Bonney also punched Yohe in his face with a closed fist, his statement says.
Krogh, the paramedic, said the deputies “never mentioned anything about a seizure Yohe may have been having.”
After Cook and Bonney dragged Yohe outside to escape a small fire inside the trailer, they tried to subdue him with a vascular neck restraint but couldn’t get a good hold. They then jumped on Yohe’s back and pushed his head into the ground. Wall Tasered him with a contact stun, and they flattened Yohe out on his belly. He was still struggling, so Wall applied “two to four more” Taser dry stuns “to no effect,” Cook said. A dry or drive stun involves placing the probes on the subject and delivering a shock to part of the body instead of incapacitating the person.
The deputies got Yohe’s arms behind his back and handcuffed him, but he continued to struggle. Cook, kneeling, put his right knee on Yohe’s back and his left knee on Yohe’s head. He pulled Yohe’s handcuffs up to a 90-degree angle while calling for other officers to bring leg restraints, Cook said. When Yohe began to “relax,” Cook released his arms to a 45-degree hold.
When Criswell arrived with leg restraints, Yohe was still on his belly and was breathing heavily, according to Criswell, who told the other deputies they needed to roll Yohe onto his right side. It was at this time that Yohe may have quit breathing, Criswell said, estimating that it was about two minutes later that medics began working on Yohe.
According to Bonney, a firefighter came into the backyard after Yohe was subdued and the deputies “began yelling at the firemen that they needed help.” Medics arrived a short time later, but Wall said he initially refused to take off either the handcuffs or the leg restraints “because he was not sure Yohe was done fighting.”
The police report contradicts the claim made by eyewitness Jones, who lives in a home adjacent to the travel trailer. In an interview with the newspaper in May, Jones said a hard kick in the ribs from one of the deputies caused Yohe’s false teeth to fly out of his mouth. But the paramedics say Krogh was asked to remove Yohe’s teeth as they were working to resuscitate him.
At a May 17 press conference, Knezovich said he’d ordered an investigation into Jones’ allegations that she was intimidated by one of his deputies and didn’t initially tell them that she’d seen Yohe kicked.
Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge’s report says Deputy Wall used his left knee for a “knee strike” on Yohe, which hit him on his right side near his hip.
During his interview, Deputy Bonney was asked if Yohe had said anything during the entire struggle, which Burbridge, the lead investigator, estimates lasted seven to 10 minutes.
“Bonney thought and then said at some point maybe he heard Yohe say the word ‘no.’ “