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Sonoma County prosecutors reviewing man’s death while in Santa Rosa police custody

An investigation into a 40-year-old man’s death last year following a struggle with Santa Rosa police has been forwarded to prosecutors, who will determine whether officers can be held criminally liable for his death, authorities said Thursday.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which completed its review of Jordan Pas’ November 2021 death and sent its findings to the District Attorney’s Office earlier this month, has declined to release the details of its probe, including the results of Pas’ autopsy.

More than five months after the fatal confrontation, members of Pas’ family say they still don’t know how he died.

“We haven’t received any information whatsoever. No authorities have spoken with us, given us any updates, nothing,” said Consuelo “Cani” Alvarez, Pas’ ex-wife and mother of their three kids. “We’re completely in the dark.”

Pas was pronounced dead Nov. 18, 2021, at an area hospital shortly after losing consciousness while struggling with Santa Rosa police officers who were trying to arrest him. Police deployed stun guns at least three times in the scuffle, according to body-worn camera footage.

At the beginning of investigations into in-custody deaths, “it’s common practice for our detectives to speak with family,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Juan Valencia said. However, whether officials continue to contact the family later on “depends on what is being investigated.”

Valencia said he did not know whether Pas’ next-of-kin had been notified of his cause and manner of death.

After numerous inquiries for information from The Press Democrat over several months, sheriff’s officials on Wednesday denied another Press Democrat request for a death investigation report by the Sheriff’s Office Coroner Unit, which officials said was finalized April 20.

Sheriff’s Office legal staff supervisor Julie Knowles said the autopsy report was exempt from disclosure because it “relates to an incident that is currently under investigation.”

Knowles did not immediately respond to questions about the basis for her determination that “the interests in maintaining the confidentiality of the records outweigh any demonstrated need for public disclosure at this time.”

The Sheriff’s Office provides death investigation reports to The Press Democrat in some instances. But it withholds such reports in certain cases, according to Valencia.

“Each case is different,” he said.

Deadly struggle

Pas’ arrest came after residents on Peach Court called 911 sometime after 1 a.m. to report gunshots and a man walking through their Roseland neighborhood with a gun.

Body-worn camera footage released by the police department shows a group of armed officers converging on the cul-de-sac to find a shirtless man who appears to have a rock in his hand.

Officers shout for the man to drop the rock before deploying stun guns and subduing 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 into his nose before medics arrive and administer chest compressions.

The in-custody death prompted Santa Rosa police officials to place eight of the department’s officers and a sergeant on paid leave.

Those staff members were allowed to return to their jobs after an initial investigation determined there were no obvious violations of law or policy, according to Sgt. Chris Mahurin, a department spokesman.

The police department is doing another, more thorough administrative review in conjunction with Santa Rosa’s new independent police auditor, who will have “full access to the reports and all body-worn camera footage,” Mahurin said.

The Sheriff’s Office conducted a criminal investigation into the incident according to standard county policy, which dictates an outside department handle investigations into an agency’s in-custody death to avoid a conflict of interest.

The District Attorney’s Office will decide whether the officers involved in the incident can be criminally charged in connection with Pas’ death.

Only one law enforcement officer in Sonoma County has ever been accused of homicide in connection with an on-duty, in-custody death. He was not convicted.

In February, a jury found former sheriff’s Deputy Charles Blount not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2019 roadside killing of David Ward.

‘Missing out’

Alvarez, Pas’ ex-wife, said that because Pas was remarried, she and her children are not his next-of-kin and are entitled to even less information about the circumstances of his death.

“The only thing that I have is a copy of his death certificate that still says his immediate cause of death is ‘pending investigation,’” Alvarez said. She received the certificate from the funeral home.

Five months later, the absence of details makes closure for her family difficult, she said.

“He’s missing out on so many milestones,” she said, like their daughter’s high school graduation in June. The kids are “missing out on having their father,” and “haven’t even begun to grieve his loss or mourn him properly.“

And Alvarez is “missing out on a good friend. I’ve known him the majority of my life, and, no matter what was happening in either of our lives, we still had each other we could confide in and look to.”

All she and her children can rely on to understand what happened the morning Pas died is the police body-camera footage, which is “hard for them to watch,” she said.

“It was a side of their father they had not seen before,” Alvarez said. “Jordan — anyone on drugs — isn’t themselves.”

While she acknowledges that Pas “didn’t make the best of choices because he put himself in that situation,” she still believes that the force used by the police officers was excessive — and she hopes that when the results of the investigation are finally revealed, they will be held accountable.

“Police officers make split-second decisions. I can’t even imagine being in their position,” she said. “But those officers should have known better, should have handled it better.”

Staff Writer Andrew Graham contributed to this story.

You can reach Staff Writers Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com and Emily Wilder at emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera and @vv1lder.

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