D.A.: Man who died in police custody had swallowed cocaine

FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WBAY) - The Fond du Lac County District Attorney says a man who died while in police custody in December died from "acute cocaine toxicity."

Christopher Cary taken into custody by Fond du Lac police officers on Dec. 23, 2018 (Screenshot of Fond du Lac Police Dept. dashcam video)

Tests showed Christopher L. Cary had twice as much cocaine in his system compared to what's seen in the average cocaine overdose victim.

Cary died December 23, shortly after a traffic stop near the intersection of Division Street and Main Street.

District Attorney Eric Tony said Cary swallowed the cocaine in an attempt to avoid being caught with the drug.

"What Mr. Cary ultimately did was, took unpackaged raw cocaine, placed it presumably in his mouth, and then ingested it in the hopes that officers would not be able to detect that cocaine."

In revealing the findings of the investigation Friday, Tony said the officer who stopped Cary requested backup because the driver had a long criminal history and an open court case on cocaine charges. A K9 alerted on Cary's car.

Police searched Cary and found he was carrying $626 but didn't find any evidence of drugs. An officer did find torn plastic sandwich bags in the storage area of the driver's door with residue of a white rock resembling crack cocaine. It was later tested by the state Crime Lab and was positive for cocaine.

Cary started showing signs of medical distress a few minutes after he was placed in the back of the squad car, the D.A. said. Cary shouted "Help me, help me," and Tony said officers "responded appropriately" and began rendering aid as they called for an ambulance. Cary's state made him unable to tell officers what was wrong.

Cary was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

"Our community is like many across the state are very familiar with heroin and opioids, and those are circumstances where Narcan can be readily administered to help revive someone. Narcan is not effective for someone who is experiencing cocaine overdose, and our law enforcement officers have limited medical training," Tony said.

"I don't think there's anything medically different the officers could have done," Tony said, especially since they didn't know what was causing Cary's distress. "According to the investigative findings, the officers did not know that Mr. Cary had ingested cocaine before they removed him from the vehicle and was taken into custody and placed into the rear seat of a squad car."

The officers involved in the traffic stop -- identified as Officer Sandra O'Connell; Officer Brandon Meudt; and Officer Trenton Smith -- were placed on administrative leave after the incident. They returned to duty on Jan. 10.

"A tragic circumstance, as I mentioned, when anyone dies, but nothing remotely close to the level of any potential criminal charges."

The investigation of Cary's death was handled by the Sheboygan Police Department. State law requires an outside agency to review deaths that happen while people are in police custody.

Asked about the traffic stop, Tony said Cary's vehicle didn't have a front license plate and he wasn't wearing a seat belt, and it turned out he didn't have a drivers license on him.

Watch the complete news conference with the district attorney and Fond du Lac police chief:



 
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