Jury rules in favor of officer in man’s death

After roughly six hours of testimony and less than 30 minutes of deliberations, a Clark County coroner’s jury found excusable Las Vegas police officer Kevin Koval’s actions that led to the death of Dustin James Boone Nov. 4.

Koval applied what is known as a lateral vascular neck restraint following a struggle at Boone’s home. Police were called to the scene by a state mental health worker after she became concerned Boone might not have taken the medicines he used to address schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Boone’s family is not happy. Their attorney, John Burton of Pasadena, Calif., said now that the family has heard the entire story, they can decide whether to pursue a civil wrongful death lawsuit.

The incident began when Melanie Torres, at the time an Easter Seals mental health worker under contract with the state, called police after checking on Boone, who died on the eve of his 30th birthday.

According to Torres’ testimony, Boone was normally “easygoing and eager to please,” but he didn’t always take the psychotropic and anti-depressant medicines doctors prescribed.

Torres said there were strong indicators Boone was off his meds the day he died. She said he didn’t recognize her when she arrived at his home to check on him in the early evening.

Torres’ supervisors decided to contact police and have them transport Boone to a facility that handles mental health patients.

Koval and officers Jerry Ybarra and Michael Rowley all testified Boone, who stood about 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed more than 340 pounds, was naked, wearing only a pair of black-framed sunglasses when they entered his home.

A struggle ensued that continued on Boone’s back patio. Boone, they said, exhibited tremendous strength and would not allow police to handcuff him.

After several minutes of struggle, Koval applied the neck restraint from behind and Ybarra and Rowley were able to place the man in handcuffs. Boone never regained consciousness and died.

According to Dr. Lary Simms, a forensic pathologist with the coroner’s office, Boone died of cardiopulmonary arrest due to neck restraint.

However, Simms told jurors the injuries to Boone’s neck were not all attributable to the neck restraint. The trachea was not damaged, which he said is normal when the maneuver is properly deployed. In ideal circumstances, he said, a person subjected to such a hold would lose consciousness in a matter of seconds but would survive.

Although there was bruising to the back of the neck and near the spinal column due to the pressure Koval applied, Simms said the majority of injuries to Boone were the result of the insertion of a breathing aid and other resuscitation efforts. Deaths that do occur following the move are normally attributed to underlying health conditions or an improperly applied hold, Simms said.

Simms said Boone’s heart was abnormally enlarged and his liver was also enlarged. No illegal substances were detected in Boone’s system, said Simms, but the enlarged heart could have played a key role in his death.

Koval, Ybarra and Rowley are all veteran officers and have received specialized training to deal with people who have mental disorders. They are members of the department’s Crisis Intervention Team.

Their mission that night was not to arrest Boone, each testified, but to take him into custody and transport him to a hospital or mental health facility so he couldn’t hurt himself or others.

The officers each testified they were concerned Boone was suicidal and was trying to blow up his home by turning on the gas to the fireplace.

“He wasn’t trying to hurt himself or anyone else,” Boone’s father, James, said after the hearing. “His birthday was the next day. He was excited. He knew we were going to take him (out) and he didn’t want to go to the hospital.”

The elder Boone said his son was watching game 6 of the World Series prior to the fatal altercation. “He was a sweet, sweet kid, watching some baseball. He wasn’t looking for trouble.”

Officer Ybarra testified Boone was showing signs of being in “extreme delirium,” and was unable to realize the men were police and there to help him. Ybarra said Boone kept saying “you’re here to hurt me,” and “what are you doing here.” Persons in such a high state of agitation, he said, are at a high risk of sudden death because they expend significant amounts of energy in a short period of time.

Boone’s mother was reduced to tears when she spoke of the night her son died. “The state called and told me these police were trained to deal with people like D.J. They said he was going to be fine,” said Dorothy Boone. “The next time they call and said, ‘you better come. He’s on a gurney and he’s not breathing.’”

Paramedic Amanda Meagher said she and her partner, along with the three police officers, tried valiantly to revive Boone.

“He took a deep breath, exhaled and his head just kind of tilted to the side,” Koval testified in describing Boone’s final moment.

Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

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