BREMERTON, Wash. - Kitsap County Jail officers involved in the death of a mentally ill inmate after a violent struggle were not properly trained to use the restraint chair linked to the man’s death, according to Washington State Patrol detectives.
Investigators with the Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team, led by the State Patrol, wrote that once Sean Howell, 28, was subdued after a fight on May 9, four officers pushed his head forward while strapping him into the restraint chair.
Pushing a struggling person forward while strapping them down is not a technique recommended by the chair’s manufacturer, The Kitsap Sun reported this week. It is the action that detectives said ultimately suffocated Howell.
When officers pulled Howell back up, they eventually noticed that he was not breathing. He died May 15 in a hospital.
Howell was jailed May 9 after confessing to the murder of Sabrina Olson-Smith, 23.
The Kitsap County Coroner determined Howell’s death was a homicide caused by "restraint asphyxia." Contributing factors were Taser and pepper spray applications and the "psychotic episode" Howell was experiencing.
A public statement issued last month from the State Patrol said detectives found "no indication" officers committed a crime in Howell’s death.
Not mentioned in the statement, but included in documents obtained from the State Patrol through official record requests, were details about officers refusing to cooperate with the investigation, a dump of irrelevant records by the sheriff’s office and 11 "areas of concern" about training for the chair.
Kitsap County Prosecutor Chad Enright is reviewing the case to decide whether officers will face criminal charges.
Detectives identified the four officers as: Juan Guerrero, Richard Campbell, Aaron Donahue and Gran Riley. No officers have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation or review for criminal charges.
The leader of the corrections officer union declined to comment. Sheriff Gary Simpson, the elected official responsible for the county’s jail, said he trusts corrections officers in the jail and said the manufacturer’s instructions for the chair may be for strapping down inmates who were already in chains, not an inmate violently struggling.
"I’m confident in the work they do," he said.