An inmate who died after being restrained by jail guards nearly four months ago was suffocated, medical examiners ruled Wednesday.
The death of Luis Solano, 38, was ruled a homicide from “complications of positional asphyxia” from police restraint procedures, said Clark County assistant coroner John Fudenberg.
Solano died March 6, more than a week after a three-minute struggle with four corrections officers in the Clark County Detention Center. Fudenberg said another contributing factor in Solano’s death was kidney failure, which occurred while he was hospitalized.
“Positional asphyxia” is a rare occurrence where a person falls, or is forced, into a position that restricts breathing and leads to suffocation.
Fudenberg said it generally takes more than a minute of resistance to suffocate, depending on the type of surface and the person’s condition. He said a person’s airway doesn’t need to be obstructed.
“A one- or two-minute fight with police is a prolonged time,” he said.
The family’s lawyer, Matthew Callister viewed the jail recording of Solano’s death, but a copy isn’t expected to be released to the family until after they file a lawsuit against the department next week.
Callister said the video showed Solano dragged to the back of a common area by four officers and pushed facedown to the floor. Two officers grabbed Solano’s arms while another pressed a knee onto his back. The fourth officer attempted to control Solano’s legs, Callister said.
After several minutes, the officers backed off and tried to resuscitate Solano, but he was lifeless, Callister said.
The four officers were placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation into Solano’s death.
They are Sgt. David Aspiazu, 38, hired in 2001; corrections officer Bradley Temple, 44, hired in August 2000; corrections officer Patrick Gray, 48, hired in September 2003; and corrections officer Eugene Dixon, 49, hired in August 2000.
Police do not comment on internal investigations and have said only that Solano was being uncooperative before the encounter.
A use-of-force review is pending.
Solano was jailed Feb. 21 on drug trafficking charges after Las Vegas police seized nearly $55,000 in cash, two pounds of cocaine and three ounces of marijuana in his apartment.
Police claim he was the head of a family cocaine business.
Solano’s daughter previously told the Review-Journal her father dealt drugs, but she maintained he did not use them.
Callister said the medical report proved there was no cocaine in Solano’s system. “It wasn’t a factor in his death,” he said.
Fudenberg acknowledged many cases of asphyxiation during arrests involve drugs. The presence of cocaine in a person’s system after an asphyxiation death, however, would always be the first cause of death in an examiner’s report, he said.
“We’ve had cases similar to this in the past, where (a suspect) is not in custody, and drugs become a very significant factor in a death,” Fudenberg said.
Callister said a lack of prescription drugs might have been a factor in the death. Solano, who was about 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed about 250 pounds, had a prescription to treat anxiety and inflammation of his stomach lining.
He had called family and friends from jail asking how to get his prescriptions.
“Everybody who knows him knows he had a very large fear of crowds,” Callister said. “He was prone to excitability.”
If history is an indication, the department might be facing a hefty payout to Solano’s family.
Frenchman Philippe Le Menn died at the jail Jan. 4, 2001, after he was arrested by police for approaching a school bus in front of an elementary school and claiming he needed to save the children.
Authorities said Le Menn bolted for the door while in custody, leading police to pounce on him.
The coroner said Le Menn died of “asphyxiation due to restraint.” Le Menn’s family settled a lawsuit against the department for $500,000. The family settled a separate lawsuit against the jail’s health care provider, then Prison Health Services, for an undisclosed amount.
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283. Follow @blasky on Twitter.