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Home  >  Topics  >  Corrections

May 13, 2006
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Wash. deputy allegedly used 'donkey kick' on inmate

Jody Lawrence-Turner and Benjamin Shors Staff writers

Copyright 2006 Spokane Spokesman-Review

A "donkey kick" that wasn't reported until three days later was among the methods used by corrections deputies to gain control of Benites S. Sichiro, who died a short time later, according to an investigation into the inmate's death.

A Spokane County corrections deputy, who later learned about the kick, called a Washington State Patrol detective on Feb. 1 and said he felt obligated by the rules and regulations of the Sheriff's Office to reveal the information, according to a 300-page report of the investigation.

Sichiro, 39, was booked into jail Jan. 27 with bruises on his face indicating that he had been in a fight. He was arrested on misdemeanor warrants and was also under investigation for the rape of a 12-year-old girl.

Sichiro fought with corrections officers in three different incidents on Jan. 29, and they struck him with their knees and fists, and jolted him with stun guns.

Officials said the inmate resisted corrections officers' commands repeatedly and was combative when they tried to move him to a cell closer to a jail nurse to be observed for health reasons, according to the reports. Sichiro was reportedly suffering from alcohol withdrawal and was delusional.

Sichiro died on Jan. 29 from a lacerated liver caused by blunt-force trauma to the torso that likely occurred sometime during three violent altercations with Spokane County Sheriff's Office corrections deputies, an autopsy later indicated.

The Spokane County medical examiner determined the manner of death was a homicide. Then-Sheriff Mark Sterk asked the State Patrol to investigate the incident. The FBI also is reviewing the case, as is the Spokane County prosecutor's office, to determine whether a crime was committed.

When detectives arrived to investigate the death, a new inmate had already been moved into cell 2W19, where Sichiro had been housed, according to a Feb. 1 report. The detective had the inmate removed while he collected evidence.

The detective did not find blood on the floor or carpet, despite having been advised that the inmate had been spitting blood, the report says. However, in a garbage can, he found a towel "soiled with a red stain" and a T-shirt with a "more yellowish stain," according to the report.

Inmates interviewed following Sichiro's death said the man in cell 2W19 feared for his life.

One inmate, who was in cell 2W27, said Sichiro screamed, "I'm gonna die." Another inmate reported that Sichiro said, "Oh my God. I don't want to die." A third inmate heard Sichiro "screaming that the officers were killing him," according to the report.

A fourth inmate, in cell 2W40, initially reported that he heard, "One of the officers ask 'Is he dead yet?' " He later retracted the statement but said he saw five to six officers attacking Sichiro "Rodney-King style."

The officers' reports make no mention of Sichiro saying he feared for his life.

The eight corrections deputies involved in the Sichiro incidents - Steve Long, Ted Tofsrud, Todd Belitz, Wayne Mauer, David Hatton, John Elam, Tim Christopherson and Michael Vanatta - all have resumed their duties.

The report found that Sichiro, who moved to the United States from the Marianas Islands in Micronesia, may have had difficulty communicating with the officers.

When a deputy checked on Sichiro early on the morning of Jan. 29, "he was answering in a different language and was physically shaking," according to the report.

The report found that "Sichiro was not understanding or listening to their verbal commands and directions."

Sgt. Dave Reagan, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said Wednesday that it would be inappropriate for anyone from his office to comment on the case while it's still being reviewed by the prosecutor's office.

Jun Mascardo, a friend of Sichiro, said Wednesday that he worked as a handyman doing odd jobs, but that he struggled to pay rent and bills. Sichiro had two children - a 13-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son - with his ex-wife, Mensiana Sichiro.

"He was frustrated because he could not make ends meet," Mascardo said.

Family members said in a previous interview that Sichiro was not known as a violent man. The reports of altercations with corrections deputies surprised them.

The initial reports about the three violent fights indicated Sichiro attempted to bite one of the deputies.

Jail nurse Sharon Dunphy told investigators that Sichiro at one point climbed up onto the desk in his cell "taking a 'swan dive' position." He fought with officers who were trying to put him in a restraint chair, Dunphy said.

"Inmate Sichiro was Tased and taken down again by officers," according to her written statement. Maximum assistance was needed to put him into a restraint chair.

The reports mention the Taser jolts, knee and hammer strikes, but there was no mention of a "donkey kick."

In a Feb. 6 report, a Washington State Patrol investigator said he received a phone call from Deputy Tofsrud who said "he needed to talk to me" about something not in the administrative reports.

Tofsrud said he was told by Christopherson that Elam had delivered a "donkey kick" to Sichiro after the inmate had been slid underneath the bunk. The kick struck Sichiro in the "mid-section to upper body," according to the report.

Tofsrud said he did not see the kick himself.

Neither Elam nor Christopherson reported the incident in their administrative reports, according to the documents.

Elam later explained he "used his foot to push the inmate under the bed," according to the report. He said he did not report the incident because he did not consider it a use of force.

During the scuffles, three different officers used Tasers on Sichiro, sometimes to little apparent effect, according to the reports.

Later on the day of Sichiro's fight with officers, another inmate was being booked into the jail. The woman told investigators that "she overheard correction officers talking about officers getting suspended," according to the report. The officers "appeared to be joking and were saying things like 'be nice to this one,' and 'don't leave bruises,' " the woman reported.

The woman "said that she heard the officers jokingly talk about finding $75 in a wallet, and heard them say, 'Let's just split it,' " according to the report.

Sichiro was one of two people who have died this year in Spokane after fighting with officers.

Otto Zehm, a 36-year-old mentally disabled janitor, died on March 20 after Spokane police shocked him with a stun gun and struck him with a nightstick. His death remains under investigation.

SIDEBAR:

@ ON THE WEB: The report forwarded to prosecutors, along with some witness statements, are packaged with this story at spokesmanreview.com. 

Full story: Wash. deputy allegedly used 'donkey kick' on inmate






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