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Metro Homicide displays evidence, say Michael Anderson responsible for his own death

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Autopsy photos, video of witness interviews and audio recordings of police radio traffic were just a few pieces of evidence laid out by officials from the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit in a lengthy presentation on Thursday in an attempt to prove beyond doubt that 31-year-old Michael Anderson’s death while in police custody was accidental.

Anderson died after choking on bags of drugs he swallowed while being pursued by police on July 21.  Since Anderson’s death community activists and the Rainbow Push Coalition have held rallies and repeatedly demanded independent investigation into the case saying there are contradictory versions of events and that Anderson might have died because of the actions of the officers who chased him.  Because of the controversy investigators made the unusual decision to lay out and explain all the evidence and details of the investigation.

“Recently there have been some claims that people don’t trust the police department, don’t trust the homicide unit,” explained St. Joseph County Deputy Chief Prosecutor Ken Cotter.  “We determined in this case it would be appropriate for us to be able to go through those facts as we found them.”

Video from the police cars involved in the incident shows it began when two police officers attempted to pull Anderson over in the parking lot of the 7/11 near the intersection of Calvert and Miami.  Anderson was on a moped matching the description of one that had been reported stolen.  In the video officers can be heard yelling for Anderson to stop, but he speeds away with the officers following.

“The law says that if an officer has a legal right to stop a person and that person refuses to stop after being told to do so then they’ve committed a crime,” Ken Cotter explained.   “That’s what Mr. Anderson did.”

After turning onto Calvert police say Anderson jumped off his moped and ran away on foot.  One of the two officers chasing him attempted to use a taser to stop him.  Metro Homicide investigators found one of the probes from the taser embedded in Anderson’s arm and the other stuck in a light post.  Cotter explained that the taser would only have affected Anderson if both probes had hit him, contradicting claims by Anderson’s family that the taser may have played a role in his death.

It was around the time of the attempt by the officer to tase Anderson that witnesses say they began to notice the chase.  In witness interviews that were played during the presentation those who were on scene said they saw Anderson shoving bags into his mouth.

“I seen him shove something in his mouth when the cops was going after him,” described witness Zachary Novak.

According to the witnesses as Anderson ran towards the intersection of Calvert and Dale he tripped on the curb allowing the two officers to catch him.

“They cuffed him on his belly, rolled him over, sat him up and they kept telling him to, ‘open his mouth, what do you have in your mouth?’” witness Greg Brown told investigators.

Witnesses also say that the officers grabbed a chair off the patio of a nearby house, sat Anderson up and attempted to get him to cough up the bags he had swallowed.  By that point a third officer had pulled up and, just 57-seconds after the chase began, officers can be heard calling for medics on a recording of that night’s radio traffic.

One of the officers grabbed a drink straw from his car and attempted to use it to pull the bags from Anderson’s throat, calling for paramedics to hurry to the scene several times.  When firefighters and medics arrived they began treating Anderson and removed a bag of marijuana from his throat.

“The paramedics believed that at that point he was going to be able to start breathing again,” Cotter explained.  “But he wasn’t.”

According to Cotter the medics found out why Anderson wasn’t breathing while transporting him to Memorial Hospital, they pulled a wadded up dollar bill out of his throat.  Then, while doctors at the hospital were attempting to put a breathing tube into Anderson’s lungs they were blocked by a bag of cocaine.  By the time doctors were able to work a tube into his lungs it was too late.

“Mr. Anderson died of asphyxia due to airway obstruction by a foreign body,” stated Dr. Joseph Prahlow a forensic pathologist.  “The cause of death is accidental.”

Dr. Prahlow also went over autopsy photographs explaining that a bruise and scrape on Anderson’s head was not caused by the police taser as some have claimed.  He also said that a toxicology report indicated that Anderson had THC (a byproduct of marijuana) in his blood and had a blood alcohol level of .08 at the time of his death.

“He (Anderson) ultimately died based upon his own actions and not the actions of any police officer,” Ken Cotter summarized at the end of the presentation.

However, despite all the evidence presented Michael Anderson’s family still have their doubts.  Delmonte Anderson, father of Michael Anderson, and Shana Penn, the family’s private investigator, attended the presentation and claimed they’ve heard contradictory statements from witnesses and officials and that the police haven’t released some reports to them.  They also affirmed that they believe that the police using a straw to try and pull the bags out of Anderson’s throat only made the situation worse.

“If you’re saying somebody put something down their throat why would you stick an item down their throat if you’re, so called, trying to retrieve it and it ends up all the way down to his lung,” Delmonte Anderson asked.

Anderson’s family and their private investigator said they intend to continue their own investigation into the case.

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