A Richland man’s death has been ruled a homicide nearly seven years after he was dropped headfirst on the sidewalk outside a Kennewick nightclub.
The bouncer already has served jail time for assault but now he could possibly be charged with manslaughter.
It took a year and a half after Ben Ensign’s death in April 2018 to conclude that the 37-year-old died because of his injuries outside of Jack Didley’s during a Fourth of July celebration in 2012.
Benton County Coroner Bill Leach made the homicide ruling this week after an investigation by a University of Washington neuropathologist and Kennewick police.
“This was a pretty complex case,” he said. “We had to make sure that there was nothing else that may have contributed further to his condition. ... Because of the complexity of the case and the six years created a huge amount of time that needed to be looked at.”
Ensign was 31 when he was asked twice to leave the nightclub because he was intoxicated and being disruptive.
He was running back to the front door intending to get his credit card, said Ensign’s sister, Megan.
On his way back Matthew T. Hibbard grabbed Ben Ensign in a choke hold and began walking him back across the sidewalk. Meanwhile, another bouncer grabbed Ensign’s ankles.
Hibbard, a club manager and bouncer, claimed he didn’t know another bouncer had also stepped in. They carried Ben Ensign for more than 13 seconds before Hibbard let go, later saying he backed off to protect himself from being hit.
After falling nearly 5 feet, Ben Ensign’s head hit the ground, fracturing his skull and causing a subdural hematoma, said officials. The injury left him on life support for a month and injured his brain.
Hibbard was later convicted of third-degree assault and sentenced to 20 days in jail.
Megan Ensign talked to her brother frequently and said he’d made significant progress in the six years since the injury.
“Up until a week of his passing, he was physically cleared by the physician,” she said. “After his assault he recouped all the way to where he was ready to go to college. He was living on his own, and had his daughter every Sunday.”
He had earned a degree previously from Eastern Washington University but planned to go back to school.
He still suffered from seizures, though she believed he was keeping the problem under control with medication.
Megan Ensign said he was an awesome person and he deserves justice.
Then on April 22, 2018, he was found dead at his Bellerive Drive Apartment, triggering the year-and-a-half long investigation into whether the assault led to his death.
The coroner said the longest wait was for blood test results from the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab. The samples were sent in April 2018 and they didn’t get results back until February.
Then Leach needed to enlist a University of Washington neuropathologist to determine if there was anything else that affected Ensign’s brain.
Now that the investigation has concluded that Ben Ensign’s death was caused by his injuries during the fight, it’s not clear whether Hibbard will face new criminal charges.
“Our decision whether to charge is more complicated than the decision by the coroner,” Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller said Wednesday.
“We have received the medical reports and witness statements on those issues and are in the process of reviewing (them),” he said.
He noted the case would not involve double-jeopardy protection but noted there are legal issues that they would need to resolve.