Santa Rosa man’s death after struggle with police a homicide, investigation says
The November 2021 death of a Santa Rosa man who was electrically stunned and tackled by police while under the influence of drugs is a homicide, according to a Sonoma County sheriff-coroner investigation.
But whether the Santa Rosa police officers involved in this case are criminally culpable in the death of Jordan Pas is still being reviewed.
Pas, 40, died of “cardiac arrest in (a) setting of physical struggle with law enforcement, application of conducted electrical weapon, and acute cocaine intoxication,” according to a death investigation report completed at the end of March.
He was pronounced dead Nov. 18, 2021, at an area hospital shortly after losing consciousness during a struggle with Santa Rosa police officers who were trying to arrest him. Police deployed stun guns at least three times in the scuffle, according to footage from officers’ body-worn cameras.
“It just confirms how I feel it was excessive. They went too far,” said Consuelo “Cani” Alvarez, Pas’ ex-wife and mother of their three children, after reading the reports. “I understand a police officer’s job has to be difficult, but they should have known better. This definitely shouldn’t have happened.”
The death investigation report synopsis, provided to The Press Democrat on Monday after numerous public records requests more than six months after the incident, also cites atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease as a significant contributing condition.
Pas’ death is still under review by county authorities.
The Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into the Santa Rosa Police Department incident based on county protocol dictating an outside agency look into a department’s in-custody deaths. It forwarded the case in April to the District Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether officers involved in the incident will be held criminally responsible.
Assistant District Attorney Bill Brockley said Thursday he expects his office’s evaluation would be completed in the next four weeks.
A finding of homicide does not suggest criminal culpability, according to attorney Izaak Schwaiger, who has successfully represented families who sued local law enforcement in some of the county’s more high-profile use-of-force cases. But, he added, it does show the coroner believed the police caused Pas to die.
“Frankly, it’s a little rare that the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office is going to determine a death like this a homicide,” Schwaiger said.
Dr. A. Jay Chapman, a forensic pathologist who has worked for the Sonoma County Sheriff-Coroner Unit and other medical examiners, agreed the finding of homicide was surprising, based on the body-worn camera footage released by Santa Rosa police shortly after the incident.
The video shows a group of armed officers converging on a Roseland cul-de-sac, sometime after 1 a.m., to find a shirtless man who appears to have a rock in his hand. Police had received reports of gunshots and someone walking around the neighborhood with a gun.
Officers shout for the man to drop the rock before they deploy stun guns and subdue him on the ground.
After Pas is handcuffed, an officer notes a bag of drugs on the ground next to Pas.
Footage later shows officers tending to Pas, who left a pool of blood on the street.
Exactly how he was injured is unclear in the footage. A minute after Pas was placed on his side, an officer checks Pas’ neck for a pulse and says he can’t feel one. He shakes Pas' chest several times.
An officer then rolls Pas onto his back and sprays naloxone, a medication used to stop suspected opioid overdose, into Pas’ nose before medics arrive and administer chest compressions.
The eight officers and one sergeant involved in the incident were placed on paid leave but have since been reinstated.
Chapman said the death investigation synopsis report does little to fully explain how Pas died — pointing specifically to the first cause of death, “cardiac arrest in setting of physical struggle with law enforcement.”
“Essentially, it’s a laundry list that doesn’t really give a cause a death outside that he died during all this going on,” Chapman said.
“Cardiac arrest is not a cause of death, because cardiac arrest occurs in everyone who dies,” he added.
Chapman called the death investigation’s findings "a cop out, in the sense that it’s not coming to a definitive cause of death.“
Sgt. Juan Valencia, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, did not answer follow-up questions about a more specific cause of death.
According to a toxicology report issued Jan. 12, Pas’ blood samples showed cocaine in the concentration of 1,800 nanograms per milliliter, as well as benzoylecgonine, a cocaine metabolite, in the concentration of 1,700 nanograms per milliliter.
These numbers are much lower than the average deadly cocaine level detailed in the report of 4,600 nanograms per milliliter — though Chapman said the range for cocaine toxicity is “tremendously variable,“ especially if it’s the first time a person is using the drug.
But Alvarez, Pas’ ex-wife, said Pas was no stranger to cocaine and his tolerance was likely very high.
“Jordan has struggled with addiction the entire time I’ve known him,” Alvarez said. “He started at a very young age.”
Though she is glad her family is getting more information about the circumstances of his death six months later, she said the death investigation materials are hard to read.
“It’s like we restart our grieving process every time something comes up,” she said.
Reporters Matt Pera and Andrew Graham contributed to this story.
You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @vv1lder.
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