Local law enforcement officers will not face any criminal charges in the death of an inmate at the Flagstaff jail.
Michael D. Rose, 48, died in an intake cell while detention officers were trying to book him into the Coconino County Detention Facility shortly after midnight on Oct. 2, 2014. The case has been under review by the Yavapai County Attorney’s office for several months.
In a letter sent to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, Flagstaff Police Department and Coconino County Attorney’s Office Tuesday, Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Jarrod Long announced the case will be closed without charges.
“Although Michael Rose’s death is a tragedy, it is readily apparent that no evidence exists to indicate any wrongdoing on the part of any of the individuals that came into contact with Mr. Rose that evening,” Long said.
Coconino County Sheriff's Office Detention Commander Matt Figueroa said he was pleased with the Yavapai County Attorney’s findings.
“It will be a relief to the officers involved to know that it’s finally done,” Figueroa said. “They’ve had that wavering over their heads for six-plus months.”
The Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded Rose died from the combined effects of methamphetamine intoxication, heart disease caused by high-blood pressure, struggle, and restraint or positional asphyxia, which happens when the position of a person’s body impairs his or her ability to breathe. In this case, Rose died while lying on his stomach in a jail intake cell with his hands cuffed behind his back.
According to police and sheriff records, Rose called 911 asking for a ride to the hospital for unspecified medical reasons late on Oct. 1, 2014. Medics later called police when he refused to get in an ambulance. He was arrested for aggravated assault after he punched an officer and tried to kick a medic during a 45-minute standoff at his motel.
An FPD officer brought him to the jail at 12:10 a.m. Rose had told medics he had a history of paranoia and hypertension, though that information was not relayed to the jail staff before his death.
At 12:13 a.m., one detention officer called for the jail nurse to look at scrapes Rose sustained during the struggle with police, but she did not arrive until Rose stopped breathing a few minutes later. Meanwhile, the other detention officers attempted to do a pat down. In jail surveillance footage, Rose appears to be panting.
“I can’t breathe,” he said. “I can hardly stand.”
The detention officers told him to relax. But when they started the pat him down, Rose started squirming. Unable to keep him still, the detention officers led him into an intake cell.
“We were looking at his safety and trying to get him into an area that was going to be safe for not only him but for our officers in order to start the process of booking him in,” Figueroa said.
Rose continued squirm, so three detention officers laid him onto the floor of the cell on his stomach. On the video, three officers can be seen holding Rose’s arms and legs, which are still in restraints. At least one officer holds his knee on Rose’s back. In his report, the officer later wrote that the pressure he used was “light.”
In the video, Rose can be seen trying to move. He can also be heard screaming the words “ow” and “help.”
At 12:16 a.m., less than two minutes into the struggle in the jail cell, Rose yelled that he could not breathe.
Then, at about 12:17 a.m., Rose suddenly stopped screaming and thrashing around. On the video, he can be heard moaning. His responses to the officers’ questions become an unintelligible mumble. His back moves up and down in what appear to be gasping breaths.
One detention officer noticed Rose was no longer moving. At 12:19 a.m., less than 5 minutes after Rose was brought into the jail cell, officers discovered he was not breathing and had no pulse. Officers and medical personnel attempted life-saving measures for 40 minutes before pronouncing him dead at 1 a.m. Oct. 3.
The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation into Rose’s death to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office reviewed the case to determine whether FPD or Sheriff’s Office personnel would face criminal charges for the same reason.
In the letter sent by the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office, Long praised how law enforcement dealt with Rose before his death, calling special attention to the combative behaviors and mental disturbances that appeared to be caused by Rose’s methamphetamine use.
“The patience and professionalism demonstrated by all involved was remarkable,” Long said.
He also called the force used on Rose “objectively reasonable and absolutely necessary.”
Figueroa said Rose’s death was a tragedy. But he said the detention officers who restrained Rose did exactly what they were supposed to do.
“We could have done everything under the sun to prepare for something like that and a traumatic event like that still would have occurred whether it was in our facility or not,” Figueroa said.