Tasered Benton County inmate's death ruled accidental

Tri-City HeraldMarch 25, 2013 

— The Christmas Day death of a Benton County jail inmate who was shocked with a Taser and dropped on his head while he was combative during a seizure has been ruled an accident.

Kevin Culp had a documented history of seizures when he was transferred to the jail from Spokane in mid-December without a special medication for his condition.

Benton County jail officials ordered the medicine for Culp, but he died from complications from a seizure before the drugs arrived, said Benton County Coroner John Hansens. Culp suffered from a lack of oxygen, or asphyxiation, while strapped in a restraint chair at the jail, he said.

The results of an investigation into Culp's death were released Monday during a news conference. Hansens ruled that neither the Taser shock nor the use of the restraint chair contributed to his death.

Culp was transferred to the jail from the Spokane Correctional Facility on Dec. 14. He had a documented history of tonic-clonic seizures, which used to be called grand mal seizures.

One of Culp's manslaughter convictions stemmed from an Idaho car wreck in 2005 when he suffered a seizure and killed three people, including a 9-month-old boy.

During his trial, his girlfriend testified Culp hadn't taken his seizure medication for three days before the collision, according to the Spokesman Review newspaper.

After he arrived in Benton County, a special seizure medicine, which authorities did not name, was ordered for Culp because it did not arrive in time before he was transferred from the Spokane facility, Hansens said.

Officials at the Benton County jail expected the medicine to arrive Dec. 17.

On Dec. 15, Culp had a seizure and was moved to an individual cell where he could be closely monitored by jail staff. The following day he was moved to a medical isolation cell and given a thorough evaluation, including an electrocardiogram, or EKG, to test the electrical activity of his heart, Hansens said. Culp remained in the cell overnight.

On Dec. 17, Culp had another seizure and when jail staff entered the cell to help him, he reportedly hit two officers and bit another.

On Monday, Sheriff Steve Keane said he didn't believe Culp was intentionally trying to be combative, but rather was "suffering from a medical episode and didn't know what he was doing."

Culp was shocked with the Taser and as he was carried to a restraint chair, police say he continued to struggle, causing Culp and the officers carrying him to fall to the floor where Culp hit his head.

Culp was placed in the restraint chair -- a chair in which an inmate's feet and hands are secured, with other wraps across the body to prevent movement. He then was moved to an individual cell where he was left alone.

Sheriff Keane said jail staff checked back 15 minutes later, they found him unresponsive. He was removed from the chair, first aid was performed, and he was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland where he died eight days later.

Keane said the jail had anti-seizure medication on hand that was available to Culp, but Culp told staff that those medications didn't work and declined to take them. The investigation found the restraint chair did not contribute to Culp's death and the deputies response at the jail was appropriate. Keane said his staff did what they thought was right in a difficult situation.

"Things happen very quickly and the officers have to make split-second decisions that are later scrutinized for months and even years to come by experts," he said. "What I know about this incident is the officers and nursing staff did what they thought was right at the time."

Keane said he went to Spokane several weeks ago to offer his condolences to Culp's father and answer any questions his family may have.

Culp was in the jail as a contract inmate. He has two felony convictions for manslaughter from Idaho and was under community supervision in Idaho.

The second manslaughter conviction stemmed from an accidental shooting Culp was involved in in 2004 when a 19-year-old man died.

Keane said his office still is reviewing Culp's death to determine if any procedures can be improved to prevent other medical deaths at the jail.

"The goal is to ensure that we put steps in place to prevent something like this from happening if it is preventable," he said. "In this case, I don't know (if it was preventable)."

Keane said jail staff have never had a problem with the restraint chair, and the correct procedure using it was followed in Culp's case.

The Tri-City Special Investigative Unit conducted the independent investigation. The unit is a multi-jurisdictional group of detectives and administrators from various Tri-City law enforcement agencies that investigates shootings involving police officers or other types of serious incidents involving police agencies.

Earlier this month, another inmate died in the jail after being found unconscious in her cell.

The sheriff's office said the 58-year-old woman is believed to have died from natural causes. The full results from her autopsy have not been completed, say officials.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service