Tuesday , December 12, 2017 - 5:15 AM1 comment
No one had heard from Sean Anderson in almost three weeks, but it didn’t seem unusual for a drug-addicted drifter.
His older brother, Jordan Anderson, who lives in Los Angeles, was in Salt Lake City on June 29 to attend a friend’s Catholic priesthood ordination. Jordan hoped he would be able to see Sean during his visit. The Andersons grew up together in Ogden.
But that same night, Sean, 26, was being arrested on suspicion of shoplifting from Kohl’s department store in Salt Lake.
Jordan said the family later heard from a friend that Sean had been taken to the Salt Lake County Metro Jail.
“So I called the jail, and looking at the booking, they said he had been released due to overcrowding,” Jordan said. “So I didn’t think that was very out of the ordinary.”
Jordan went back to L.A. “We all just kind of moved on,” he said.
Two weeks later, Kathy Anderson, their mother, got an email from a friend of Sean’s saying he had been murdered.
“This obviously sent my mom into a panic,” said Jordan, who again tried to find out what happened to Sean.
“As a last-ditch effort, I called the coroner,” he said.
That was on July 18.
“I was fully prepared to give them Sean’s physical description, but they didn’t need that,” Jordan said. “They knew him by name.”
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Stumbling into the discovery of Sean’s death started a cascade of questions that would only grow as the family absorbed the news and tried to navigate a bureaucratic mystery about the final day of his life.
Their story resembles several others told in the past year by families whose loved ones died after being booked into a county jail in Utah.
At least 24 people died after being booked into Utah jails in 2016 — the most since at least 2000, according to available federal statistics. The leading cause is suicide.
“They had had him since July 1,” Jordan Anderson said. “Why had nobody contacted my mother? Why were we not notified? Why did the booking information say he had been released due to overcrowding?”
In his quest for answers, Jordan spoke to police, jail, ambulance, hospital and coroner offices.
Documents show Anderson was arrested just after 5:30 p.m. June 29. He was booked into the jail at 10 a.m. the next day. Jailers noticed he was unresponsive in his cell at 2:42 p.m. and he was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead at 3:33 a.m. July 1.
An autopsy report, which Anderson’s family requested and shared with the Standard-Examiner, said Sean Anderson died of methamphetamine toxicity. A pathologist reported finding abrasions on Anderson’s scalp, face, arms and knees.
RESCUE DRUGS AND LEG RESTRAINTS
Officers responding to a shoplifting report found Sean Anderson wearing a pair of shorts with a Kohl’s sales tag still attached, according to the incident report filed by Salt Lake City Police Department officer Brandon Rammell.
He was arrested and put in the back seat of the patrol car. One of another two suspects picked up with Anderson had a seizure, and police called an ambulance.
Medics gave the suspect naloxone, an opioid overdose rescue drug. Rammell wrote Anderson said he swallowed heroin, so the medics already on scene also gave Anderson a dose of the rescue drug.
The report doesn’t note Anderson saying anything about methamphetamine use. Naloxone is only helpful against opioid overdose, not other drugs.
Paramedics then cleared Anderson to be taken to jail and told officers the suspect was being “theatrical,” Rammell wrote.
Anderson slammed his head against the plexiglass screen in the car, cutting his forehead, the report said.
Rammell, his partner and a patrol supervisor, Sgt. Devin Stutz, attached leg restraints to keep him from banging his head, the report said.
Kathy Anderson said Zachary Wiseman, the suspect who had the seizure, later said that Sean was complaining and the officers pulled him out of the car and beat him to the point that he lost control of his bowels.
The family has requested copies of the officers’ body camera footage but has not been able to obtain it so far, Jordan Anderson said.
Wiseman did not respond to requests for an interview.
Anderson was restrained because he was combative, according to Detective Robert Ungricht, a Salt Lake police spokesman. The officers, he said, followed protocol by summoning the patrol sergeant to do an “arrest check” because of the potential medical or injury issue.
Ungricht said internal affairs officers were aware of Anderson’s case but said there was not a reason to open an internal affairs case related to his arrest.
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Jordan Anderson said he remains skeptical after checking out the histories of officers Rammell and Stutz.
Both officers have used deadly force on duty, according to past news coverage.
In 2013, Rammell, then an Ogden police officer, shot an attacking dog to death after his partner was unable to use a stun gun on the animal, according to a Standard-Examiner reporting. A police review board ruled the shooting was justified.
In 2011, Stutz fatally shot a bank robbery suspect who apparently reached into his clothing for a wad of cash.
A review by the district attorney’s office found the shooting to be justified, even though the suspect was not armed, because the officer feared the man was reaching for a weapon, a Deseret News story said.
As for his brother being reported released for overcrowding, Jordan Anderson was told via email by Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office Lt. Michael DeNiro that Sean “was eligible for an overcrowding release, which was processed” but remained in the holding cell.
DeNiro said the jail later tried to notify the family of the death, but none of the contact information Anderson left was valid.
The Utah Office of the Medical Examiner’s case report said it also failed to locate Kathy Anderson, who lives in Farr West.
“I can make my peace that my brother was an addict and that it was absolutely possible” that he died of a drug overdose, Jordan Anderson said. “But I do believe there was some great negligence happening.”
He doesn’t believe officials tried very hard to find his brother’s next-of-kin.
“My mom is a 35-year state employee,” he said. “If they wanted to find her, they could have found her, or they chose to sweep some things under the rug.”
Asked whether an independent investigation of the jail’s portion of the case was conducted, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Hunter declined to comment, citing medical privacy protections.
Kathy Anderson remembers her son as “my baby, my little buddy.”
In first grade, Sean suffered a blinding injury in an eye, falling on a stick he was carrying as he ran.
“That in itself explained a lot about Sean,” she said.
He struggled in the classroom, and as a teenager began hanging around with kids doing drugs, she said. He dropped out of Washington High School.
“He was tagged — the police knew who he was,” she said.
Sean got married and his wife had a child, who is now 6 years old.
After that, she said, “Sean just kind of wandered. He ended up going to Salt Lake, in the Rio Grande area.”
Like her oldest son, Kathy Anderson has questions about inconsistencies in the public safety reports.
“I want to know if they cleared Sean to be held in that holding cell,” she said. “They said they found him in a fetal position. If you’re checking on someone and know they’re sick, how does it get to that point?”
Jordan Anderson said he asked the mortuary to let him see his brother’s body. He was shocked by a gash on his brother’s forehead. Because the autopsy report mentioned only abrasions, Anderson again called the medical examiner’s office, which told him the wound may have happened during the autopsy.
“I’m kind of shocked how difficult it was to track these things down,” Jordan Anderson said.
The lack of response on the request for body camera footage and the “no comment” on a jail investigation suggest holes in the case, according to the Andersons.
Jordan Anderson said he hoped authorities did not make “early assumptions” about his brother, who was both an addict and an African-American.
“I hope he was not neglected because of who they thought he was,” he said. “You need to take a 360-degree view of the individual.”
The jail booking sheet listed Sean Anderson as black. The state autopsy report said he was white.
Jordan Anderson said their mother is white and their father black.
“For my brother to die over a pair of shorts at Kohl’s was highly unnecessary,” Jordan Anderson said. “Just because he was not anything to them does not mean he was not anything to other people.”
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