Kennewick officer cleared in meth user’s death hours after the man was tased

Tasers: How safe are they? The answer may surprise you

Richland Police Department's Lt. Chris Lee says it's an important tool.
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Richland Police Department's Lt. Chris Lee says it's an important tool.

Kennewick Police Officer Jair Ealy-Thomas acted appropriately when he fired his Taser at a man who later died of acute methamphetamine intoxication, an independent investigation released Monday has concluded.

Ealy-Thomas was placed on leave after the September incident at Park Middle School. He has already returned to full duty.

Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg requested that the Special Investigative Unit investigate after Nicolas Garza, 28, of Pasco, died in police custody at Trios Southridge Hospital.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller reviewed the report and said independent witness statements, video of the initial encounter between Ealy-Thomas and the individual who called 911 about Garza, the recovery of a knife he was carrying and the lab test findings from the autopsy were all consistent with Ealy-Thomas’ statement.

No criminal acts were committed by any Kennewick police officer and Ealy-Thomas’ actions were appropriate and did not contribute to Garza’s death, according to the SIU findings.

Hohenberg concurred, according to a news release.

Erratic man outside middle school

Ealy-Thomas was the first officer to respond to a call the evening of Sept. 27 when a citizen reported a man, was acting erratically at Park Middle School, 1011 W. 10th Ave., Kennewick. Garza had reportedly been waving down passing vehicles, asking for help.

Jail ealy-Thomas.jpg
Kennewick Officer Jair Ealy-Thomas was cleared of any wrongdoing in the death of a Pasco man high on methamphetamine who died after being shocked with a Taser.

When the officer arrived, Garza was on the ground, kicking and screaming. He got up and moved toward the officer and had an 11-inch kitchen knife.

Ealy-Thomas ordered him to stop and drop the knife.

When Garza didn’t comply, Ealy-Thomas fired his Taser. The Taser did not appear to work at first and Garza continued moving toward the officer, who continued to order him to stop and drop the knife.

Garza eventually dropped the knife and laid down.

Search finds meth

He was taken into custody about three minutes after Ealy-Thomas arrived. Garza was searched and a baggie containing suspected methamphetamine and a glass smoking device were seized.

Garza walked to the patrol vehicle on his own.

When Ealy-Thomas and officers who arrived later noticed he was having trouble breathing, they asked for help from medical staff from the Kennewick Fire Department.

Garza was taken to Trios Southridge Hospital with an extremely elevated temperature. He died at the hospital.

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Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.