Video was released last week from a Nevada jail that shows the last minutes of a mentally ill Reno man’s life before he died during a struggle with deputies who pinned him to the floor with a spit hood covering his head during booking procedures.
During the struggle, deputies can be seen taunting 35-year-old Justin Thomson telling him they “owned” him and would make sure he “remembered it” adding he was an “asshole” and a “dick.”
For more than 30 minutes, more than a dozen deputies take turns kicking, tasering, insulting and crushing the wind from Thomson’s lungs even after he told them several times he could not breathe due to the mask over his head.
When Thomson screamed out for help, a deputy replies, “We are the help!”
“I believe anyone who watches this video will understand why I was concerned about the handling of this incident and why I immediately called for an outside investigation,” said Sheriff Chuck Allen who runs the Washoe County Jail where a sharp increase of in-custody deaths began just after Allen took office.
Justin Thomson, 35, was one of three men who’ve died during a struggle with deputies attempting to restrain them during the past two years–in addition to ten others who’ve died from accidents, suicides and natural causes since Allen took office.
It took more than a day for jail personnel to decide Thompson needed to go to an emergency room after he was booked into the Washoe County Jail on domestic battery charges on August 3 where he spent more than 24 hours pacing his cell, curling up in a fetal position while clutching his head, plugging his ears with toilet paper, drawing on cell walls with his own blood and climbing onto the metal sink to talk into the vent.
After returning to the jail, a fatal struggle with deputies ensued.
Video of the struggle shows Thomson squirming under several deputies who piled on, kicking him, keeling on his back and applying arm-bar holds.
It eventually ends with deputies performing CPR for 15 minutes unsuccessfully attempting to revive him.
It took deputies several days to inform next of kin Thomson had even been in the hospital.
Thomson’s mother, Karen Thomson, spoke to her son the night before he was arrested. He’d been planning to go to Bakersfield to visit his family.
But Thomson never made it home.
Thomson’s girlfriend called his sister as she drove to Reno to pick him up on August 3 and said there had been an accident and Thomson was arrested.
Karen Thomson attempted to call the jail to find information about her son, but was unable to find any specifics.
“I’m frantically calling people,” she said. “We didn’t know what happened to him.”
On August 7, she received a notification her son had been released, but he hadn’t been released. He had been declared brain dead at Renown Health hospital.
Authorities didn’t bother notifying Thomson’s family he was in the hospital for two more days.
“On Tuesday afternoon — the 9th of August — I have a sheriff’s officer here in Kern County that comes in and tells me that my son had passed away and told me he had died of a massive heart attack,” Thomson said.
More than 25 hours of video was released to the Reno Gazette-Journal on April 25 after deputies involved attempted to prevent the videos’ release.
District Court Judge Jerome Polaha ordered the video to be released but stipulated the sheriff’s office blur the deputies’ faces.
Thomson was extracted from his cell and taken to the hospital for acting erratically after the first 4 hours.
Deputies returned Thomson to the jail from the hospital four hours later in a wheel chair after receiving a shot of an anti-psychotic drug at the emergency room.
A sergeant rolls him into another room. Thomson turns to look over his shoulder when the sergeant grabs his head, pushing it to the side.
Thomson tries to slide out of the chair. Deputies then drag him to the floor onto his stomach, holding him down by his legs, shoulders and feet.
“How does this feel,” a deputy taunts Thomson.
Thomson begins complaining he can’t breathe.
“No, you’re not being compliant, Justin. We could’ve just rolled you through the process but you’re being a dick about the whole thing.”
A deputy can be heard asking for a “burrito.”
“So now we are to this level and you’re going to get carried in a little wrap because you can’t maintain enough thought to go through this process like a man,” the deputy says. “If you hurt my staff, you are going to catch a felony. Understand? We are not going to get injured by you. And if you lash out, I am going to make sure that you remember it.”
As the struggle intensifies deputies are seen kicking Thomson in the side while others pin him on his stomach with the spit hood on his head, which makes breathing difficult.
Nurses enter the room to ask questions about his medical history, but never ask how Thomson was doing during the struggle.
Towards the end, Thomson begins audibly wheezing and coughing about 28-minutes after the struggle began before he finally stops breathing.
“When you listen to the questions, it seems ridiculous,” retired sheriff’s Sgt. Clyde Terrell said after watching the video.
“The medical questions are being asked by memory and none of them apply to his present situation. No one asks, ‘Are you able to breathe?'”
During the struggle, deputies continue attempting to complete booking procedures while Thomson is pinned on his stomach with the spit mask over his head.
Karen Thomson described her son as someone who was always ready to help friends and family in need and even let a friend undergoing cancer treatment move in with him.
When his father’s medical condition forced him to have his leg amputated, he traveled to California to help him recover.
“Everybody always talked about how he helped them,” she said. “He was always caring for other people.”
According to Thomson, her son had an anxiety disorder and had been in the hospital after he was diagnosed following panic attacks.
Thomson’s death was ruled a homicide by a medical examiner.
The Sparks Police Department, who conducted an investigation, found no criminal liability on the part of deputies.
Video below shows the struggle, which begins at timestamp 7:44 and intensifies at the 24:50 mark. Deputies begin CPR at 41:30.