Wash. prosecutor finds police, medics didn't break law in 2018 in-custody death

Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant determined that responders acted appropriately with Werner Anderson, including the administration of ketamine


Cameron Probert
Tri-City Herald

PASCO, Wash. — Pasco police have been cleared of wrongdoing related to a 2018 in-custody death that involved a man suspected of being on drugs.

A 54-year-old man had a fatal dose of methamphetamine in his system when his heart stopped inside a Pasco ambulance, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant determined.

The decision by Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant is based on a 2018 report from Dr. Sigmund Menchel that said Werner Anderson's cause of death was
The decision by Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant is based on a 2018 report from Dr. Sigmund Menchel that said Werner Anderson's cause of death was "acute methamphetamine intoxication." (Photo/Jon Lee)

Sant found police and medics acted appropriately in interactions with Werner Anderson outside of the Union Gospel Mission on Aug. 10, 2018, including when they held Anderson down and administered ketamine after he became violent.

Police and firefighters did not commit any crimes in their interaction with Anderson, the prosecutor said in a 15-page report released Monday.

The decision is based on a Nov. 25, 2018, report from Dr. Sigmund Menchel that said the cause of death was "acute methamphetamine intoxication." The report also said no signs of assault were found on his body, though there were abrasions on Anderson's wrists consistent with struggling while in handcuffs.

"This is a grave reminder methamphetamine is deadly and people should seek treatment to break the chains of this toxic substance," Sant wrote. "I would like to thank the medics and officers who attempted to save Anderson's life as he experienced a medical emergency."

Pasco police had two encounters with the man on Aug. 10 and in both he appeared to be on drugs, according to their statements. The first was at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Agate Street and the second was at the Mission.

While most of the police encounters were peaceful, Anderson allegedly became combative with officers after they escorted him into the back of an ambulance.

Officers held Anderson down inside the ambulance while firefighters dosed him with ketamine to calm him down. Shortly after the dose, Anderson's heart stopped beating. Medics performed CPR as he was rushed to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

He died at the hospital.

Since Anderson was in police custody, then Police Chief Bob Metzger asked the Regional Special Investigations Unit to investigate the case.

The unit draws detectives from Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties to investigate cases where people died in interactions with police.

The unit over its report to the prosecutor's office in 2019. It's unclear why it took another three years for Sant to issue his opinion.

Swinging his backpack

Pasco police were called to Fifth Avenue and Agate Street shortly after 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2018. The caller said a man was yelling and swinging his backpack at passing cars.

Officers Andy Corral, Kevin Erickson and Alex Busch and then Sgt. and now Capt. Bill Parramore responded to the scene. Two detectives were also on the scene as well.

The officers all described Anderson as under the influence of some sort of narcotic.

When Parramore asked Anderson the last time he used drugs, "Anderson stated he used recently and he liked sprinkling it on his eggs," according to Sant's report.

The officers all said that Anderson was cooperative. Corral offered to take him to the hospital or detox, but Anderson refused. Then Corral offered to take him to a relative's home or to the Mission, and Anderson agreed to go to the Mission.

Anderson was patted down to make sure he didn't have any weapons on him, and then Corral took him to the shelter.

Police dropped him off in the area just before 11 a.m.

'Very High on Meth'

Minutes after he was dropped off Anderson went into an alley near the homeless shelter. He spotted a man talking with another person staying at the shelter.

Anderson asked the man a question, and after the man answered Anderson hit the man in the jaw.

Someone called 911 to report the attack and described Anderson as "very high on meth," Sant said.

The men's shelter director, Ruben Ochoa, responded to the report about the punch and saw Anderson slapping his hands against the ground "really hard."

"Anderson appeared dehydrated," Sant said, paraphrasing Ochoa's statement. "Ruben stated Anderson was trying to get to his feet but was only able to roll around. Another male was standing near Anderson and placed a water bottle near him. Anderson grabbed the water bottle and began drinking, with half the water going to his mouth and half poured on his person."

Corral was the first person on the scene again. He saw Anderson sweating profusely and talking incoherently. He called for an ambulance and put handcuffs on Anderson.

Officer Adam Wright arrived moments later, and said that Anderson was moving on the ground like a dolphin. He was concerned he would hurt himself, so he propped Anderson up against his knee.

Officer Busch, who has a degree in nursing, also arrived before the ambulance. He first talked with the man who was punched, and then helped Anderson to a shaded area while they waited.

While Anderson had been cooperating with police until that point, things changed after the ambulance arrived.

Ketamine dose

When the ambulance showed up, Busch and Wright escorted Anderson through the door on the side.

Once inside, Anderson sat in the "captain's chair" at the head of the stretcher. Busch told Anderson he needed to sit on the stretcher and grabbed him by the arm to guide him.

Anderson got up and stepped between the wall and the stretcher. He then lunged toward the back, Busch lost his grip and Anderson fell between the stretcher and the wall of the ambulance.

Firefighters opened the back door and took out the stretcher. Once it was outside, Anderson rolled onto his stomach and was yelling, cussing and struggling with officers.

To calm Anderson, medics decided to administer ketamine, an anesthetic. Busch and Wright held him while a Pasco firefighter administered 250 milligrams of the drug.

The drug has been found to be a safe way to sedate violent patients, according to a 2014 study published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. This includes patients who are high.

According to Pasco Fire Department policies, 250 milligrams is the correct dosage to use when the patient is severely combative or dangerously agitated.

The Washington State Patrol Toxicology Laboratory found that the amount of the drug in Anderson's blood was "consistent with the Pasco Fire Department's protocols on administration of ketamine," Sant said.

Shortly after the dose, Anderson calmed down and then stopped breathing. His heart rate started dropping and then stopped.

Firefighters started CPR as they raced to Kadlec Regional Medical Center, and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The toxicology laboratory and other sources determined the levels of methamphetamine in Anderson's blood were in the fatal range.

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(c)2022 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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