Inquest in Tukwila death finds no police wrongdoing
A King County District Court jury on Friday agreed with the medical examiner’s conclusions in the death of a combative, mentally ill Tukwila man last June, seeing no signs that police were to blame.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A King County District Court jury on Friday found that a Tukwila man was combative, mentally ill and on the verge of being involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility when he fought with police and died last June.
Since Tuesday, jurors had heard testimony in the King County inquest into Victor Duffy Jr.’s death during a confrontation with Tukwila police.
On Friday afternoon, after the conclusion of testimony, jurors were asked to answer 20 questions — ranging from Duffy’s mental status that day, whether police used Tasers and pepper spray on him, and whether Duffy died while being treated by medics.
There was no indication from the answers that jurors believed police did anything wrong.
In fact, jurors unanimously agreed with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office finding that Duffy’s death was caused by “sudden death associated with the manifestations of excited delirium and following physical restraint.” The manner of death, however, has not been determined.
The inquest, ordered by county Executive Dow Constantine, was a fact-finding hearing conducted before the jury to determine the causes and circumstances of Duffy’s death. At the conclusion, jurors answered questions to determine the significant factual issues in the case.
Lawyers representing Duffy’s family, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the city of Tukwila and the Tukwila Police Department participated in the inquest.
Duffy’s family has filed a lawsuit seeking at least $15 million in damages from the city. The trial is set for next year.
Attorney Lee Rousso, who is representing the family, said hewasn’t surprised by the jury’s findings.
He said the purpose of the inquest was not to prove the wrongful-death case or have jurors take sides.
“This was not going to be a huge victory for the family,” Rousso said. “We are thankful for the county for putting on the inquest. We are not surprised by the answers to the interrogatories.”
Rousso said, “We still think mistakes were made in training and execution.”
During his testimony this week, Tukwila police Officer Joshua Vivet said he was dispatched to the family’s home in the 5600 block of South 150th Place on the morning of June 30 after Duffy, 25, had dialed 911 to report his cellphone charger and remote control missing, according to court testimony.
Upon arriving at the home, Vivet was greeted by Duffy holding a golf club on the porch.
He was ranting that his sister, his mother and his mother’s common-law husband were strangers who didn’t belong in his home. Duffy’s sister, mother and her common-law husband were also on the porch, and those in the group were yelling at each other, Vivet said.
Within minutes, officers determined that Duffy needed to be involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility.
But when police tried to pat him down for weapons, he started swinging at police and refused to comply, Vivet said. Duffy shoved two officers away and appeared unaffected after being shot with Taser barbs and doused with pepper spray, police said.
Duffy ran out of the house, leapt from the porch and broke his ankle, according to court testimony. He continued to fight police until they managed to handcuff him and strap him on a gurney, Vivet said.
Jurors voted unanimously that Duffy appeared to calm down after he had been handcuffed. They all agreed that Duffy told police he was able to breathe after he was in cuffs.
However, while being treated by medics, Duffy became nonresponsive, jurors said. He died later that day.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.