Jail video chronicles inmate’s last struggle
Video from a jail camera opens at 5:25 p.m. June 29 with corrections officers being pushed out of a holding cell by a shirtless man in orange jail pants.
WENATCHEE — Jail staffers described a sweating, yelling prisoner with exceptional strength as they try to subdue him on June 29.
The prisoner, Jesse Avina Morales, 21, of Wenatchee, died that day in what the Chelan County coroner called the result of excited delirium with hypertensive heart disease as a contributing factor.
In reports made public Tuesday, Wenatchee police detectives list details of how the jail staff said they treated Avina Morales during a 16-minute struggle inside the Chelan County Regional Justice Center.
The reports did not address how the efforts by jail staffers to subdue Avina Morales might have affected his health.
Some medical experts use the term excited delirium to describe an unexplained death that happens when someone’s vital signs shut down after a fight-or-flight incident.
Sgt. Jim West, spokesman for the Wenatchee Police Department, said Tuesday that “the jail staff did everything they could, well within reason, to help this guy.”
He said detectives “closed the case because we found nothing criminal to require further investigation.”
He added that “if our police officers were doing what they did, it would have been within our policies and procedures in attempting to restrain him.”
Avina Morales’s family has declined to talk about his death.
Curt Lutz, jail director, also declined to talk about the case until after his office reviews the investigation, which was released in response to a public records request from The Wenatchee World.
The Wenatchee police reports chronicle interviews with jail staff and ambulance crew members.
Among the findings:
- No weapons were used during the struggle. At one point, a corrections officer went to get a Taser but did not use it because she was concerned about its effect on Avina Morales.
- There were no reports of corrections officers punching Avina Morales.
- Avina Morales did not strike anyone during the struggle. He “acted like he just wanted to get away, like he was scared,” Corrections Officer Tim Parks said.
- Video from two cameras in the jail captured the struggle. A camera inside the holding cell did not record the action.
- Avina Morales was shirtless and sweaty, which made it difficult for jail staff to control him.
- Marks were visible on Avina Morales’s wrists and ankles from handcuffs and ankle cuffs. He also suffered an abrasion to a wrist and knee. Blood around his lips came from bite marks on the inside of his cheeks and mouth, the coroner said.
- A spit hood was placed on Avina Morales. “Someone put a spit hood on Morales … and Morales asked for it to be taken off because he couldn’t breathe,” Detective B.D. Chance stated. “According to Deputy (Robin) Bloch, it appeared as if Morales could breath just fine because he was talking and yelling.”
- Cami Aldrich, a licensed practical nurse working in the jail, got permission over the phone from the jail’s physician’s assistant to give Avina Morales an antipsychotic drug, and a sedative but the struggle, and Avina Morales’s subsequent unresponsiveness, prevented that from happening.
- Liliana Rios-Dias, the girlfriend of Avina Morales, told detectives that Avina Morales began using methamphetamine and cocaine about two months before he died “and that he used about twice a day but that he was known to binge-use when he could get the drugs.” Chelan County Coroner Wayne Harris has said that toxicology reports show no drugs in his system when he died. Harris also said that hypertensive heart disease, which was a contributing factor in Avina Morales’s death, can be caused by drug use.
The report states that the struggle with Avina Morales occurred after corrections officers decided he was acting out inside a holding cell and might injure himself.
“Morales was observed in his cell yelling about lions eating him and was described by one deputy as acting like a pinball bouncing off the walls of his cell,” according to a report by Detective Chance.
Avina Morales had been in jail two days when he died. He had been arrested June 27 on a domestic violence no-contact violation. Including that incident, he had been booked into the jail three times in about five days. In one incident, on June 26, he was arrested on suspicion of third-degree theft of 11 water bottles from a local gym. On June 16, he was arrested on suspicion of forgery and attempted fourth-degree assault.