Werner Anderson had a heart attack and died while in Pasco Police custody moments after medics injected Anderson with the sedative ketamine while one police officer knelt on his back and another held his feet.
The Observer submitted a public records request and obtained the 537-page Special Investigative Unit report, which Franklin County prosecutor Shawn Sant received over a year ago, on August 28, 2019.
In addition, the Observer obtained the 2019 Schedule Drug Report from the Pasco Fire Department about the use of ketamine by medics. The Observer also had telephone conversations with Dr. Kevin Hodges, medical program director of Benton-Franklin Counties and Franklin County Coroner Curtis McGary.
On August 10, 2018, Pasco Police Officer Andrew Corral1 responded to a call from the area near Chinese Gardens Restaurant in Pasco. Neighbors reported that a man was knocking on doors, yelling and “acting like he was on drugs.”
In a statement, Corral reported that “the male was cooperative, gave his name as Werner Anderson, and gave his date of birth.”
Corral said that Warner refused to go voluntarily to Lourdes Hospital or detox and instead asked to be taken to the men’s shelter at the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission.
Minutes after officers dropped Warner off at the shelter, though, Ruben Ochoa, director of the men’s shelter, called police to report that “he saw a man flopping on the ground like a fish” and “slapping the ground really hard with his hand.” He reported that Anderson had also swung at one person and hit a second person with a grazing blow.
When Officer Adam Wright2 and Officer Alexander Busch and Corral responded to the call, they handcuffed Anderson and helped him into the shade. An ambulance arrived with Medic James McGrath and Busch and Wright walked Anderson to it. Both Ochoa and Mission Director Debra Biondolillo described Anderson as walking with assistance.
According to Busch, when Anderson sat in the medic’s chair, Busch said to him, “Hey, you know, you can’t sit there. You gotta sit on the stretcher. So he got up from there. I helped guide him up and he stepped between the, uh, bench area and the stretcher.”
To extricate Anderson, the stretcher was removed from the ambulance. Busch and Wright attempted to get Anderson to his feet, but he resisted. After a struggle, Busch held Anderson’s feet while Wright, according to his statement, knelt on “his back area, his shoulders.”
Officer James B. Vaugh, who arrived about the time of the struggle in the ambulance, said in a statement, “Officer Wright was in the ambulance and had a knee on the subject holding him down. The subject was handcuffed, face down, and screaming at the top of his lungs.”
Dr. Lawrence Heiskell, an emergency physician and a veteran reserve police officer with the Palm Springs (California) Police Department, writing in “Police Magazine,” describes the dangers of placing body weight on detainees in a prone position.
According to McGrath “the decision was made to apply chemical restraints.” In his statement Michael Maier of the Pasco Fire Department also said, “It was determined that ketamine would be used.” Maier stated that he drew up the sedative and handed it to McGrath.
Moments after McGrath injected 250 milligrams (mg) of ketamine into Anderson’s shoulder, Anderson’s heart stopped. McGrath began CPR and other rescue methods and the ambulance left for Kadlec, the closest hospital with a Level 1 cardiac unit. Anderson was declared dead at Kadlec.
Recently the dangers of ketamine as well as the practice of kneeling on the backs of detainees has received new scrutiny.
A young Black man died in Aurora, Colorado in 2019 after being held in a chokehold and then injected with a large dose of ketamine. Colorado and Minnesota have both reported sharp increases in the use of the drug by medics despite medical warnings about side-effects.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, injected ketamine can cause “difficult or troubled breathing” and “fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat.”
The American Society of Anesthesiologists released a statement on July 15, 2020, that said it “firmly opposes the use of ketamine or any other sedative/hypnotic agent to chemically incapacitate someone for a law enforcement purpose and not for a legitimate medical reason.
The Observer spoke by telephone with Dr. Kevin Hodges, medical program director of Benton-Franklin Counties. When asked who “determines” when to use ketamine, Hodges said, “It is the sole responsibility of the medic as to when to use drugs in an emergency.”
Hodges added, “Ketamine is the safest, most efficient drug available for sedation of agitated patients.”
In a document signed by Hodges on June 1, 2016 and included in the SIU report, “Protocol Title: Behavioral Emergencies” there is another option for “dangerous agitation/combativeness” — “4-point soft restraints.”
When the medics chose to use ketamine, at least four people from the Pasco Fire Department were at the scene: medics Maier and McGrath; ambulance driver, Captain Seth Rhoer; and ride along Andrew Kimball. Four Pasco police officers were also there: Wright, Busch, Corral and Vaugh.
Hodges pointed out that “Ketamine is primarily used by medics for pain relief.”
In Pasco, the 2019 Schedule Drug Report for Ketamine lists 34 times that medics used primarily small amounts, around 15 mg for pain. On 23 other occasions, larger doses of up to 200 mg to 500 mg were injected for conditions that included alcohol abuse, psychiatric disorders and altered mental status.
According to the toxicology report in the SIU report, in addition to the ketamine, Anderson had THC, amphetamine and methamphetamine in his blood.
In a telephone conversation with the Franklin County Coroner Curtis McGary, the Observer learned that the coroner’s office listed “drug overdose” as the cause of death.
After over a year with the SIU report, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant has yet to announce whether any charges will be brought in the case.
1 Another SIU investigation was created on July 30, 2020 to investigate Corral after he shot Santiago Ayala-Pineda for allegedly refusing to drop a handgun.
2Wright was one of the three Pasco police officers who shot rock thrower Antonio Zambrano-Montes in 2015.