June 8, 2013 in City
Subdued by Taser, man dies next day
Deputies respond to complaint of disorderly person
A man has died after he was shocked with a Taser during a confrontation Thursday night with Spokane County sheriff’s deputies outside a South Hill gym.
The Washington State Patrol has been named the lead investigating agency after Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich requested its help as part of the local critical-incident protocol.
A man identified by friends of the family as Will Berger, in his mid-30s, apparently had suffered a head injury just days before and was still wearing a hospital bracelet when he began to act irrationally inside Oz Fitness, 5501 S. Regal St.
Deputies responded to the disorderly person call at about 7 p.m. and a confrontation with Berger ensued “during which a Taser was utilized,” WSP Trooper Jeff Sevigney said. “As deputies struggled to arrest the suspect, the suspect became unresponsive, at which point deputies and EMS provided life-saving measures.”
Berger was transported to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. However, he died Friday morning after he was taken off life support, said Port Angeles attorney and family friend Karen Unger.
“How does this keep happening?” Unger said. “You read about it but you never think it’s going to happen to someone you know.”
Witness Joe Bornstein said he was working out inside the gym when he noticed Berger arrive.
“He was doing his own little workout. He started doing some free weights and asked if he could use the bench. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ He was fine,” Bornstein said.
But Berger started to loudly clap between sets and started becoming more vocal with each lift.
“When he went over to the bench, doing his shoulder exercises, he started stomping his feet,” he said. “He said, ‘One last set, this is going to burn like crazy.’ Then he just went off.”
Berger walked over to the treadmill area and began yelling at people exercising there, Bornstein said.
“Some of the Oz people came over and said, ‘You need to be quiet.’ He kept saying, ‘I’m going home now. I’m going home,’ ” Bornstein said. “He deteriorated really fast after that.”
Staff cornered Berger near a weight-lifting machine and Berger initially “looked like he wanted to fight somebody,” Bornstein said. “But then he shook his head and then he went outside.”
Berger did not assault anyone or throw weights, but he did rip off a paper-towel dispenser, Bornstein said. “That’s when they called the cops.”
Fearing that Berger would go into a play room for children, Bornstein said he twice called 911.
“He eventually went outside” and stood in the street, Bornstein said. “He started to hit cars as they went by.”
Berger walked across the street and deputies arrived. Berger was in a corner of the lot standing “kind of low to the ground … but kind of bouncing around.
“I watched the cop get out of the car, walk up and shoot him with a Taser,” Bornstein said. “There was no conversation. I was watching the whole thing.”
Knezovich said Friday night authorities had interviewed multiple witnesses that offered a different version of what transpired. He said witnesses reported Berger pounding on the deputies’ car.
When he was hit by the Taser, Berger fell to the ground, Bornstein said. “After that, I didn’t even watch it because I knew he was done at that point,” he said.
Unger, the attorney, said Berger’s father, Bill Berger, had traveled to Spokane to help his son close on a house he was buying. Bill had taken Will to the gym and was returning to pick him up when he witnessed the confrontation.
“For his son to be killed in front of him, this is an absolutely horrible tragedy for the family,” Unger said. “It was such a happy time for Will. I just can’t even imagine.”
Spokane Realtor Marianne Guenther was the listing agent on the home that Will Berger was trying to purchase on the South Hill.
“He was so courteous. He came across as a very nice gentleman,” Guenther said.
The sellers had four offers for the exact same price, but they chose Berger “because of his demeanor,” she said.
After completing the sales agreement, Berger – who had been saving his whole life to purchase a house – returned to the home and gave the sellers a gift.
“My experience with him was very good,” Guenther said. “I don’t know anything about him other than he was a very thoughtful buyer and everybody I talked to had only good things to say about him.”
Knezovich said two deputies were involved in the incident, and both were on administrative leave. He said both deputies had at least 15 years of experience in law enforcement.
Reporter Kip Hill contributed to this report.