San Joaquin County Sheriff Called Mans Death an Accident After The Officer Tased Him 31 Times

Daniel Lee Humphreys was speeding on his motorcycle down a freeway in Stockton, fleeing from a California Highway Patrol officer, when he crashed. Humphreys, 47, staggered to the median and tried to climb over a metal divider.

The officer shocked him repeatedly with a Taser gun and killed him.

It has been more than nine years since that July night in 2008, but Humphreys’ ex-wife, Barbara Steward, said his death is in her thoughts every day.

“It’s something I probably will think about the rest of my life, because of the way it all turned out,” Steward said one evening in November, as she sat on her den sofa in a wash of candlelight. Steward talked about her 13-year marriage to Humphreys and the two daughters they raised together.

She said it would have been easier for the girls, who were 13 and 18 at the time, to accept their father’s death if had happened naturally, or even by accident.

“But to know it was preventable, and it was so excessive, and then for nothing to be done,” she said. “I think that’s what I struggle with every day for my kids.”

Steward said it still stings that San Joaquin County Sheriff-Coroner Steve Moore ruled Humphreys’ death an accident — especially knowing that his office had evidence about the Taser that was withheld from the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy.

“It was only reported that he was tased twice and in reality he was tased 31 times,” she said. “I’m not sure how that can be overlooked or swept under a carpet like it was.”

Questions about Humphreys’ death surfaced last week when the county’s chief forensic pathologist resigned, accusing Sheriff Moore — who oversees the coroner’s office — of meddling in the investigations of deaths in which law enforcement officers were involved.

Dr. Bennet Omalu — best known for his discovery of a traumatic brain injury in football players and played by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion” — raised the Humphreys case, along with several more recent officer-involved deaths, in memos released last week accusing the sheriff of repeatedly withholding investigative reports and certifying deaths as accidents in order to protect officers.

In an Aug. 22, 2017, memo — one of several he wrote this year to document what he sees as wrongdoing by the sheriff — Omalu said that in the Humphreys case, “information was intentionally withheld from me by the sheriff, in order to mislead me from determining the case to be a homicide.”

At the time of Humphreys’ death Omalu had been with the county less than a year. He wrote that he had initially thought the suppression of evidence was “an anomaly” but has since come to regard it as “routine.”

The accusations raise questions more broadly about the independence of death investigations in a sheriff-coroner system, in which forensic pathologists work under a law enforcement officer, according to the California Medical Association and the San Joaquin Medical Society.

“The issue of diminished public trust in the autopsy process is not new,” Dr. Grant Mellor, president of the county medical society, wrote in a letter to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors last week.

Citing related allegations in Santa Clara County, Mellor and the president of the statewide medical association, Dr. Theodore Mazer, called on San Joaquin County officials to immediately create an independent medical examiner’s office and remove control of coroner functions from the sheriff.

San Joaquin is one of 50 California counties that have an elected sheriff-coroner, while the remaining eight, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, have independent medical examiners.

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