One case study of in-custody death: A 'perfect storm' of deadly errors

Small slips in tactics and making assumptions can quickly compound into calamity


Nothing sends a wake-up call about the importance of searching thoroughly like having a prisoner slash his throat in the backseat of your patrol car. Two Wisconsin deputies experienced that unnerving occurrence while transporting a mental patient to a treatment facility and ended up as defendants in a federal civil suit, accused of “deliberate indifference” to the victim’s right to life. For officers everywhere, this is a harsh reminder that small slips in tactics and making assumptions can quickly compound into a “perfect storm” of calamity.

Here’s what happened, according to court records and an exclusive interview with Robert Willis, a well-known law enforcement trainer and legal consultant hired by the deputies’ defense attorneys. As a courtesy to the officers involved, we’ve changed their names.

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