Videos Released by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Depicts Fatal Struggle at Washoe Jail


Videos released by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office show in gut-wrenching detail the final hours of a Reno man with a mental illness who died after struggling against deputies who kept him pinned to the floor — his face covered with a spit hood — for more than 30 minutes.

Justin Thompson, 35, was booked into the Washoe County Jail on Aug. 3 and spent 24 hours pacing an empty holding cell in growing distress, curling in the fetal position while clutching his head, stuffing toilet paper in his ears, drawing on the walls with his own blood and climbing the metal sink to talk into the ceiling vent.

It took more than a day for jail personnel to decide Thompson needed to go to the emergency room. When he returned to the jail, the violent struggle that ultimately killed him occurred. The video shows Thompson wriggling under a crowd of deputies who kicked him, kneeled heavily on his back and applied painful arm-bar holds.

During the struggle, some deputies used taunting language, saying they owned him, telling him they would make sure he “remembered it” if he lashed out and calling him stupid, an a**hole and a d**k. When he screamed for help, a deputy responded: “We are the help.”

Others calmly asked him to relax and stop resisting.

The video ends with deputies performing CPR for 15 minutes, trying unsuccessfully to revive him. 

Thompson arrived at Renown Regional Medical Center without a pulse after the Aug. 4 struggle. He lay in a hospital bed on life support for five days before the sheriff’s office notified his family and his longtime girlfriend on Aug. 9 that he was hospitalized. His family took him off life support on Aug. 12.

“It was just dumbfounding to me,” his mother, Karen Thompson, of Bakersfield, Calif., said in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I don’t know why they didn’t tell us sooner.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Bob Harmon said “efforts were made to notify Mr. Thompson’s next of kin from the time he was hospitalized.” He provided no other details.

The way in which deputies responded to Thompson, how quickly they used force, how long they kept him on the ground and the language they used during the fight is under internal investigation and has raised questions about the deputies’ training in de-escalation techniques.

Sheriff Chuck Allen even took the unusual step of criticizing the deputies’ handling of the struggle before the internal investigation was complete after he reviewed the videos obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal through a public records request.

“I believe anyone who watches this video will understand why I was concerned about the handling of this incident and why I immediately called for an outside investigation,” he said in a written statement.

“I further, and firmly, believe that some of the actions shown do not reflect the standards of the men and women who work for the Sheriff’s Office. Nor are they in keeping with my often-expressed expectation that employees from this office will always treat the public we serve with fairness, equality and respect.”

Allen and his command staff declined to answer further questions about which specific actions by the deputies were troubling, adding that they would say more when the internal investigation is complete. Sparks police concluded an independent investigation into Thompson’s death in February and found no criminal wrongdoing by the sheriff’s office.

The video of Thompson’s death was requested by the Reno Gazette-Journal as part of a year-long examination of a sharp increase of in-custody deaths at the Washoe County Jail, which began just after Allen took office. That examination found the death rate has risen to nearly five times the national average since Allen took office.

Thompson was one of three men who died after struggling with deputies attempting to restrain them in the past two years. Ten other inmates died from suicide, accidents and natural causes.

Thompson’s family continues to question how he died and has hired a lawyer to explore a potential lawsuit.

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Below is two hours of footage from the Washoe Co. Jail showing the entire struggle that led to Justin Thompson’s death. The struggle begins at timestamp 7:44. The struggle intensifies at 24:53. Deputies start life-saving efforts at 41:30.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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