Questions are being asked of a Washington state law enforcement agency after a University Place, WA man died this week in police custody after no fewer than four cops reportedly used their Tasers to subdue him in a parking lot.
According to local station KOMO News, eyewitnesses say officers responded to a distressed Ron Hillstorm early Monday by using excessive force that eyewitnesses believe is responsible for his death.
A neighbor, Ashley Patterson, told KOMO on Monday that she saw Hillstorm having what she believed to be some sort of episode and asking for help while pacing around the apartment complex parking lot that morning,
"I see four officers walking up on him and they're like, 'It's the police,' and he's like 'You're not the police', and he goes to run in the circle and as soon as he comes back the police use four Tasers at one time," she recalled.
“They’re out to get me! They’re trying to set me up!” another eyewitness told KOMO she heard Patterson plea.
Dozens of residents shared similar accounts, the station reported, and several eyewitnesses captured cell phone footage of the incident as it unfolded. KOMO has since published excerpts from those recordings.
According to Patterson, one of the officers struck Hillstrom several times with a flashlight after he was finally subdued.
Ed Troyer of the Pierce County Sheriff's Office told KOMO that the officers involved are now on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, but was hesitant to point the blame at any person just yet.
"Without seeing the whole entire incident in context, you're not going to know why that was happening,” he said. According to KOMO, the Sheriff’s Office said Hillstrom was resisting, and has a history of run-ins with the law.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner found no evidence of any blows to Hillstrom's head, KOMO added, but a full autopsy has yet to be finished.
According to the network, witnesses say Hillstorm was holding a screwdriver in one hand at the time of the altercation, but didn’t threaten anyone with it.
“No, he did not charge the police,” one of the eyewitnesses told KOMO’s reporters. “He was just doing what he was doing before the police came.”
On Hillstorm’s personal Facebook page, friends and family have posted message of remembrance calling the entire episode “truly heartbreaking” and “just terrible.”
“Not once have I heard from the witnesses or Ed Troyer that Ron made [any] threats or moves towards the cops,” one Facebook friend remarked. “Hey dumb ass cops you have a bottle of mace that should have been used instead of four [Tasers] and a flashlight. “
“These cops make me sick! I hope they all pay for killing my friend,” another acquaintance commented on Troyer’s personal Facebook page. “He did not deserve to be MURDERED by those piece of Shit officers. With all the witnesses and videos I hope those bastards get charged with murder and go straight to prison. Stop making excuses for these bullies with badges!!”
Within hours of Monday’s incident, police in Pierce County again used their Tasers — this time to subdue a suicidal 80-year-old man, according to reports. The family of a 25-year-old man fatally shot by a Pierce County officer on March 21 of this year unsuccessfully appealed for an independent investigation into that matter last month.
Two years ago, Amnesty International released a report in which the organization claimed that 500 people were killed by Taser devices used by American law enforcement between 2001 and 2012.