WATERVILLE — A witness who videotaped the arrest of a man who died in police custody early Tuesday morning praised sheriff’s deputies for the calm and professional way they handled the tense situation.
“They didn’t rough him up,” said Daniel Augustson, who lives near Pioneer Park. “It was not an abusive take down. Everybody tried to keep him calm. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department did an extremely good job.”
Augustson, a general contractor in Waterville, said he’s been friends with Jason Nalls, who died during the incident, for more than 10 years. He described Nalls, 40, as a friendly, helpful man who leaves behind a wife and young daughter.
“Jason worked hard and tried to provide for his family,” he said.
Augustson said he was asleep in his apartment across an alley from the park when he was awakened by a loud noise. He went outside and saw Nalls sitting in the driver’s seat of a patrol car and a deputy standing outside the car talking to him, trying to coax him out of the car. Nalls was repeatedly honking the car’s horn, he said.
Augustson said Nalls asked him to get a video camera and record the incident. So he went back to him home and retrieved a camera.
When he returned, he said Nalls asked him if he was taking video.
“The officer said, ‘Yes, he’s shooting a video,” Augustson said.
At that point, Nalls got out of the car on his own and laid down on the ground. He placed his left arm behind his back, Augustson said, but would not place his right arm behind his back.
“There was some struggling between the deputy and Jason to get the other arm behind his back,” he said.
At that point, Augustson said he placed the video camera on the ground, still on, and went to help the deputy. He said he tried to calm Nalls down, because they knew each other.
“He was very agitated,” Augustson said of Nalls. “He kept saying ‘Help me,’ and talked about Jesus. Then he would quiet down for awhile. I kept telling him, ‘Jason, everything’s all right. Let’s just get this over with.’”
He said Nalls was face down on the ground and, at one point, the officer had his knee on the side of Nalls back to hold him down.
Augustson said the deputy eventually placed one set of handcuffs on one of Nalls’ wrists and another set of handcuffs on his other wrist, then linked the cuffs together.
Within seconds after the handcuffs were on, a second Douglas County sheriff’s deputy arrived, Augustson said. The two deputies were talking calmly with Nalls, he said.
“Jason would say something, and we would let him know it’s OK, it’s all over with and help was coming,” Augustson said. “Then all of a sudden he just quit making noise. They rolled him over and you could tell there was something wrong.”
He said they checked Nalls pulse and began CPR immediately. An ambulance arrived about five minutes later, he said.
Augustson said he gave the video camera to investigators. Chelan County Undersheriff John Wisemore, who is heading up the investigation, confirmed that they had video and that Augustson was the one who shot it and was present during the incident.
Augustson said he was shaken by the loss of a friend. He said a lot of people in Waterville knew Nalls because he did odd jobs for them. He said he has also driven truck for various farms over the years during wheat harvest. Nalls worked part time for Douglas County doing custodial work, groundkeeping and snow removal at the Courthouse.
“Jason always wanted to help,” Augustson said.