Jury: Man caused own death

Although a 47-year-old man died shortly after struggling with a group of Las Vegas police officers on Nov. 1, a coroner's jury concluded on Friday that he caused his own death.

Jurors listened to testimony Friday morning during a coroner's inquest and deliberated over the lunch hour before ruling that Daniel Morantes III died from cocaine and ethanol intoxication.

"We felt it was his own actions that caused his demise," jury foreman Rory Tominaga said.

Jurors had the option of declaring the death either excusable, justifiable or criminal. They chose "excusable."

"We had three choices, but they all involved homicide," said Tominaga, a self-employed computer programmer. "To us, it just didn't make any sense."

Dr. Alane Olson, a pathologist with the Clark County coroner's office, testified that the primary cause of Morantes' death was cocaine and ethanol intoxication. She said the manner of death was a homicide.

"We just basically didn't agree it was a homicide, so that was the part we had the most trouble with," Tominaga said.

The dictionary defines homicide as any killing of one person by another, but Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy said coroner's offices use a broader definition that includes any interaction between two or more people that results in a death.

Olson testified that Morantes had cocaine and alcohol in his system. She said his blood-alcohol level was about 0.05 percent, or just over half the legal limit for drivers in Nevada. He also had an enlarged heart.

The pathologist said those combined conditions could have caused the man's death even without the physical altercation.

Numerous witnesses, including six police officers who were at the scene during the altercation, gave similar descriptions of the incident during the inquest.

The officers responded around 6:20 p.m. to a report of a fight in an apartment at 500 N. 14th St., south of Bonanza Road.

According to inquest testimony, people at the apartment complex identified Morantes as one of the fight participants, and police sent Morantes over to officer Shane Black.

Black, who had heard that a knife may have been involved in the fight, directed Morantes to the front of a patrol car. The officer said Morantes was incoherent, had bloodshot eyes and was walking slowly.

Morantes started to reach in his pocket, Black testified, and the officer stepped toward him to grab his hands and pat him down for weapons.

The suspect then yelled and moved toward Black, who wrapped his arms around the man.

"He came at me," the officer testified. "It happened really quick."

As Black struggled with Morantes, officer Steve Morris Jr. grabbed the suspect's right arm. Morris and Black then took the man down to the ground. Officers said Morantes was spitting at them and trying to bite them.

According to testimony, Morantes lay face down on top of his left arm and refused to move it from that position. Officer Elvin-Ron Valle used a baton as leverage to pull the man's arm out from under his body. Another officer held down the suspect's feet.

"I've been in fights before, and his strength was extreme," Black said of the suspect.

Morris said he called for an ambulance during the struggle.

"He was in some kind of crisis, because he was not acting like a normal person would act," the officer testified.

Officers succeeded in cuffing Morantes' hands behind his back, and they said he was sitting calmly on the curb when medical personnel arrived. After he was lifted onto a gurney, an emergency medical technician noticed he had stopped breathing. He was taken to Sunrise Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"We had no intent to injure him," Morris said. "We were trying to get him into custody."

Morantes, a former Texas oil worker, had recently moved to Las Vegas seeking work. Police did not find a knife on him.

A woman identified as Morantes' sister submitted several written questions for the inquest but did not attend.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.