Police detectives used a search warrant to get an unconscious man’s medical records immediately after his May 1 encounter with sheriff’s deputies in Spokane Valley, court records show.
That tactic, similar to a search warrant used to obtain the medical records of the late Otto Zehm – who was Tasered and beaten by police – may have violated privacy rights, Breean Beggs, of the public-interest law firm Center for Justice, said Wednesday.
Beggs now represents the estate of Trent Yohe, a 37-year-old methamphetamine addict who lapsed into unconsciousness and died 12 days after being arrested by sheriff’s deputies.
“The estate’s interest in this is Mr. Yohe’s right of privacy,” Beggs said. “They got a search warrant based on a charge of assaulting a police officer, the same thing they did in the Zehm investigation” in March 2006, Beggs said.
“I also find it curious that the search warrant affidavit says the police ‘arranged’ to have blood drawn from Mr. Yohe before they got the search warrant,” Beggs said.
He stopped short of saying the warrant was deficient or shouldn’t have been signed by newly elected Judge John O. Cooney.
“I didn’t see anything in the search warrant that explains why obtaining Mr. Yohe’s blood samples would be relevant to charging him with the third-degree assault of a police officer,” Beggs said.
Yohe, wanted on a forgery charge, was experiencing a seizure and was uncooperative before deputies Tasered him outside a small travel trailer on East Fifth where he had been staying.
An eyewitness claims a deputy kicked Yohe after he was handcuffed behind his back, with his cuffed wrists tied to his ankles. The Spokane Police Department was called in by Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to investigate the in-custody death. He has said his preliminary conclusion is that his deputies did nothing wrong.
The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office still has not signed a death certificate listing the cause of death for Yohe. He died May 12 after being removed from life support at Sacred Heart Medical Center.
A private memorial service, involving the release of balloons with hand-written messages to the victim, was held May 19 in Mission Park.
An autopsy was conducted, but the medical examiner’s staff is awaiting results of toxicology tests done on Yohe’s blood and organs.
Jennifer DeRuwe, a public information officer with the Spokane Police Department, said Wednesday that agency’s investigation into the Yohe death has not been concluded.
Meanwhile, it was confirmed Wednesday that Spokane County has hired a private law firm to handle the Yohe case if a wrongful death claim is filed.