Medical examiner: Inmate died while being restrained

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: July 18, 2012, 7:39 PM

 

Five months after a Vancouver man with a history of mental illness died in the Clark County Jail, his death has been ruled a homicide from asphyxia while being restrained by custody officers.

The investigation into the circumstances of Marius Asanachescu’s Feb. 10 death continues, said Sgt. Scott Creager of the Vancouver Police Department. Creager said Wednesday that he and other members of the major crimes unit will meet next week with Clark County Medical Examiner Dr. Dennis Wickham to discuss Wickham’s findings.

On Wednesday, Asanachescu’s mother, Afrodita, said she used to trust the justice system.

“What happened to my son is incredible,” she said. “They killed him.”

The internal affairs unit of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office has been conducting its own investigation, said sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Neiman. Neiman would not say how many custody officers were involved in restraining Asanachescu, but said they were put on routine administrative leave during the initial phases of the investigation and have returned to work.

Creager said finished reports will be forwarded to Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik for his review. Golik will determine whether to file criminal charges against any of the custody officers.

The ruling on Asanachescu’s death comes after inmate suicides on July 1 and July 7.

According to a June report from Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, between 2007 and 2011 the jail has been “heavily impacted by special-needs inmates: the mentally ill, geriatric, physically or mentally challenged or violent.” Suicide attempts have more than doubled since 2007, the report said.

In an interview earlier this year, Jackie Webster, Clark County Jail chief, said the jail isn’t set up to be a hospital. Inmates are routinely double-bunked in the jail’s six-room medical unit, and other special-needs inmates have to be isolated.

In 2009, a mentally ill inmate died from an overdose of generic Prozac and his family sued the county and Wexford Health Sources Inc., the county’s medical contractor for the jail. The county and Wexford settled by each paying the family $175,000.

Clark County commissioners are already scheduled to have a work session this summer with the sheriff’s office to discuss policies and procedures for special-needs inmates.

Few details of Asanachescu’s death were released Wednesday.

According to Neiman, custody officers had been attempting to restrain Asanachescu from harming himself.

While the cause of death was homicide from asphyxia, Wickham determined that psychosis was an underlying cause of death and obesity was a “significant condition.”

Asanachescu, 28, was 5 foot 9 and weighed 260 pounds.

“Although homicide is sometimes used synonymously with the act of murder, homicide is broader in scope than murder and does not necessarily constitute a criminal act,” Neiman wrote in a press release.

Bipolar disorder

Asanachescu’s mother said her son wasn’t a bad person.

“Marius didn’t take his medication,” she said.

Afrodita and her husband, Cristian, have retained Vancouver attorney Bill Nelson. Nelson said Wednesday that it’s too early to know anything “other than they feel very badly about the loss of their son.”

In an interview in March, the Asanachescus said their son started using drugs in 1997 to self-medicate for his bipolar disorder and received professional help at Columbia River Mental Health and Lifeline Connections. Their son also received Social Security disability payments.

When he was on his medication he would do well, but then he would stop taking it because he didn’t think he needed it anymore, Cristian said during the March 22 interview.

Their son was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1983 and the family immigrated to the United States in 1990.

They first lived in Los Angeles, then moved to Portland in 1992 and to Vancouver in 1996.

They said their son didn’t cause any trouble until he was a teenager. He dropped out of Mountain View High School when he was 16.

Asanachescu’s criminal history includes juvenile convictions for taking a motor vehicle without permission and adult convictions for robbery and attempt to elude.

In 2009, former Superior Court Judge Robert Harris found Asanachescu mentally incompetent to stand trial on a charge of custodial assault. Asanachescu was civilly committed to Western State Hospital, where he stayed for six months.

Asanachescu had been living with his brother, Andrei, when Andrei called 911 on Jan. 30 to say that his brother had pulled a steak knife on him and threatened to kill him, according to court records. Asanachescu was arrested for second-degree domestic violence assault. Booking records noted that he was “bipolar in manic state, off meds,” but did not show any signs of suicidal behavior.

On Feb. 7, Superior Court Judge Scott Collier signed an order to transport Asanachescu to Western State Hospital for an evaluation.

Asanachescu was waiting for a bed to open up at the Tacoma-area hospital at the time of his death.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.