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Coroner's Report on Nathaniel Jones

Aired December 3, 2003 - 13:36   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Actually, first we are going to take you directly to Cincinnati to learn more from the coroner we've been telling you about. Let's here what he has to say about Nathaniel Jones' death.
DR. CARL PARROTT JR., HAMILTON CO. CORONER: Good afternoon. I guess we never had a lot of respect for professors that read their lectures. You know, we can always read the lectures, but what I propose to do is read the text of a prepared statement. You'll be given a copy of the statement, and then I'll take questions, if you'll raise your hands, after I make this presentation.

The death of Nathaniel Jones during or immediately after a violent struggle with police officers attempting to subdue and arrest him was reported to and investigated by the Hamilton County Coroner's Office. Out of findings disclosed, a markedly obese man with a markedly enlarged hypertensive heart. The prior presence of hypertensive heart disease was confirmed through medical history. There were superficial so-called tramp (ph) track bruises consistent with night-stick injury, confined to the lower part of the decedent's body, with no evidence of transmission of force or injury to deeper organs.

Toxicological testing performed on the decedents blood revealed the confirmed presence of cocaine and fincyclidine, also known as PCP or angel dust. The connotation of these substances reveal intoxicating levels of each. Injection is believed to have occurred. In the case of the cocaine, three hours or less before death. And in the case of fincyclidine, four hours or less before death. Toxicological testing also disclosed the presence of methanol. Methanol is a frequent constituent of embalming fluid, used in the preparation of fry sticks, or wets, home-rolled or commercial cigarettes dipped in embalming liquid or other liquid, occasionally spiked with PCP. Three such cigarettes containing PCP were recovered from the victim's car, as was about a third of a gram of cocaine.

WMKU, your microphone has fallen over.

Cocaine, in addition to its intoxicating effects, is a cardiac irritant. And can, by itself, cause lethal abnormal heart rhythms or dysrhythmias. Chronic cocaine use can cause or contribute to heart decease of hypertensive type such as the decedent exited. Mr. Jones thus suffered from a potentially lethal combination of health problems when he encountered, and apparently assaulted, police officers early last Sunday morning.

His life expectancy would have inevitably been considerably reduced. However, the event that precipitated his death at that particular time, rather than the following week, month, or year, was the ensuing struggle. Violent physical confrontations promote a physiological stress reaction, the so-called fight or flight response. In a person with Mr. Jones' underlying problem, such a reaction can be, and frequently is, lethal.

Accordingly, his death must be regarded as a direct and immediate consequence, in part, of the struggle, potentiated by his obesity, his heart disease, and his drug intoxication. When issued by this office, Mr. Jones' death certificate will list as the immediate cause of death cardiac dysrhythmias, due to physiological stress reaction, due to a violent physical struggle with restraint.

Contributing factors listed on the death certificate will be obesity, hypertensive heart disease and intoxication by cocaine and fincyclidine. The death of Mr. Jones should be understood as multifactoral. Absent any one of the contributing problem, Mr. Jones odds of surviving the struggle would have been increased. Absent all of them, he would have been expect to survive. Indeed, absent the drug intoxication, the confrontation should not have occurred at all, since the police would not have been requested to respond. Absent the struggle, however, Mr. Jones would not have died at that precise moment in time, and the struggle, therefore, is the primary cause of his death.

Ohio law specifies four valid manners of death in cases where a manner can be determined -- accidental, homicidal, national, natural and suicidal. Because Mr. Jones' death was a result, in whole or, as in this case, in part, of the purposeful act of another person or persons, specifically the attempt to subdue and arrest him by police, his death will be ruled a homicide.

This word should not be interpreted as implying inappropriate behavior or the use of excessive force by police. Whether or not that occurred is not within the scope of my training and experience, nor that of my staff. The word does not imply hostile or malign intent. It is merely a characterization of the circumstances in which the cause of death came to be. I pray that we can look forward to the day when new technologies have been developed, tested, and approved for use in circumstances such as those in which Nathaniel Jones and six Cincinnati police officers found themselves last Sunday morning. Technologies which will reduce the risk of death and injury, both to persons being detained and those charged with detaining them.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Dr. Parrot...

PARROTT: Yes, Deborah.

QUESTION: Considering what was in his system and his enlarged heart, if he had not struggled with police, would you have been surprised if he ended up here anyway?

PARROTT: No, I would not.

QUESTION: Can you explain why?

PARROTT: If we had found Nathaniel Jones dead on the sofa at home with this level of drugs in his system, absent the heart disease, we would have ascribed the death to his drug. If we had found him dead on his sofa at home with the heart disease, absent the drugs, we would ascribe his death to the heart disease.

This is a potentially lethal combination of circumstances. You've got central nervous system stimulants and a man with heart disease, who is also quite obese.

Nevertheless, you can't ignore the fact that his death occurred at a precise moment in time during or immediately after a struggle with the police. It could have been -- he could have been chased down the street. It could have been a road rage incident, anything like that, you know, that precipitated his death. Indeed, you know, his life expectancy, as I indicated would have been reduced, in any case.


QUESTION: I'm sure there will be plenty of people in the community interested in your observations about what, if anything, police could have or should have done in the two minutes, or whatever it was, waiting for the paramedics, that might or might not have made a difference.

PARROTT: I did not bring my timeline, although I prepared one. The police did roll Mr. Jones on to his side, which is the recommendation of, as I understand it, of police agencies, and of course physicians who are involved in consultative activities with regard to this kind of case.

Whether the -- whether anything could have been done in these circumstances is something I can't address. The success rate with resuscitation in these circumstances is, as far as I understand it, is not very high. But again, that's a question that would better be directed to, you know, to a -- you know a person who actually deals with EMS teams.


QUESTION: Can you give us specific amounts of cocaine and PCP in the system, for instance, how much he might have consumed within that period of time.

PARROTT: I can, but I didn't bring it with me unfortunately. We do have that information. It's available. It will be in the tox report.

QUESTION: Ballpark figure, though?

PARROTT: Now if you'll not hold me to this precise, I think the cocaine was like point .29 and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) being .14.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

PARROTT: It's intoxicating, but nonlethal levels. It's intoxicating.

QUESTION: What about the other one?

PARROTT: Methanol? I believe it was about 30 milligrams per deciliter.

QUESTION: Isn't that a lot?

PARROTT: That's a lot.

QUESTION: Did he drink it?

PARROTT: Well, we're not clear how he managed to come by that amount of methanol. As I -- well, embalming fluid contains methanol, and it's my understanding that -- and we don't confront this much down here in this part of the state. It's apparently much more common up in the Cleveland area, that people will take either a joint or a commercial cigarette, and dip it into embalming fluid.

Now, apparently, the customers don't always know that those fry sticks are sometimes spiked with PCP. But we are speculating at this point, that -- we know that inhalation of methanol vapor at so many parts per million causes the accumulation of methanol in your tissues.

We're going to have to confer with people who have more experience with toxicology of fry sticks, and this -- you know, to see if this is reasonable. It -- you know, the other possibility is that it was ingested.

QUESTION: He drank it?

PARROTT: Yes, that's a possibility. We really don't -- we have not gotten that far in our investigation of the case.

QUESTION: Dr. Parrott, does it create a high? I'm not familiar with methanol. Do these all create the same sort of reaction?

PARROTT: Methanol, as I understand it, is similar -- the effect of methanol is similar to that of other alcohols.

QUESTION: Similar to alcohol?

PARROTT: Other alcohols -- ethanol...

QUESTION: Would that counter the effects of PCP or cocaine in any way, or would they reinforce it, or what?

PARROTT: That, I can't tell you.

QUESTION: But he had consumed all three of those within what period of time?

PARROTT: Well, we don't know about the methanol. The methanol, we're assuming is something that's accumulated in his system as a result of smoking embalming-fluid dipped cigarettes, but that's a speculation at this point. We simply haven't enough experience with the toxicology of this form of drug administration to have -- you know, to offer educated opinions. We'll have to confer with some folks upstate.

We have no way of knowing. If this is something that accumulated in his system over time, obviously, you know, and it's just leaching out of his body fat, wherever it's stored.

QUESTION: PCP was one five hours, within five hours, is that correct?

PARROTT: The toxicologist indicates that -- and he's fairly conservative. He indicates that -- his calculations are -- indicate that the PCP should have been consumed within five hours prior to death.

QUESTION: Cocaine within three hours, methanol undetermined.

PARROTT: Yes, cocaine three, less than three. Again, as I say, our chief of toxicology is fairly conservative. And obviously, they could have been consumed minutes before.

QUESTION: Dr. Parrott, have you been able to determine on the death certificate an exact time of death, an exact time of death in that incident?

PARROTT: We will use the time of pronouncement, probably, which occurred, I believe, at the hospital.

QUESTION: Did you say the cause was dysrhythmia, did I understand you to say that?

PARROTT: Right. Well, The underlying cause is the struggle, the underlying cause is the physical struggle engaged in by an overweight man with a bad heart.

QUESTION: But was dysrhythmia the...

PARROTT: That's what we're going to assign as the final...

COLLINS: All right, we have been listening to the coroner in the Cincinnati beating death there of Nathaniel Jones, 41-year-old Nathaniel Jones. This gentlemen saying Dr. Carl Parrott Jr. telling us primarily that this death of Nathaniel Jones will be listed as a homicide, but it certainly does not imply, in his words, the police used excessive force. He also talked about cardiac dysrhythmias, cocaine and PCP found in the body of Nathaniel Jones, intoxicating levels of each. Also methanol. Toxicology tests done on all of that.


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