By Michelle McNiel Wenatchee World
WENATCHEE — A man who took control of a Douglas County sheriff’s patrol car and dragged a deputy about two blocks in Waterville died early Tuesday morning while being detained.
Jason M. Nalls, 40, was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.
The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death with help from Douglas County and Wenatchee Police detectives.
The deputy, who authorities have not yet identified, was treated at Central Washington Hospital and released. Douglas County Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal said he did not yet know what injuries the deputy sustained.
Chelan County Undersheriff John Wisemore gave this account:
Douglas County sheriff’s deputies were called to a domestic disturbance at Nalls’ residence on East Birch Street about 11 a.m. Monday. Deputies determined that there had been a verbal dispute, and they left a short time later. Wisemore did not know who Nalls was arguing with.
Deputies were called back to the residence around 10 p.m. Monday after Nalls reported someone shooting at his house.
Deputies could not confirm that any shots were fired. While they were at his residence, Nalls locked himself in his bathroom.
Deputies were able to get Nalls out of the bathroom, but Wisemore did not know whether they talked him out or broke the door in. Afterward, Nalls asked to be taken to Central Washington Hospital for mental health reasons.
Nalls then ran out of his house and deputies could not find him.
Around 1 a.m., Nalls was found by a deputy about two blocks from his home. When the deputy got out of his car, Nalls got into the driver’s seat of the patrol car and began driving away, dragging the deputy about two blocks. The patrol car went into Pioneer Park, struck an embankment and stopped.
The deputy then shot Nalls with a Taser. Wisemore said investigators have not determined whether it made enough contact to affect Nalls.
A second deputy arrived about that time and the two deputies struggled with Nalls before they were able to get him in handcuffs.
An eyewitness, however, said the second deputy arrived shortly after Nalls was handcuffed. Wisemore said that’s possible and that the official version of events could change as the investigation continues.
Wisemore said about a minute after the handcuffs were placed on him, the deputies noticed that Nalls had become unresponsive and stopped breathing. They started CPR, and emergency crews arrived and took over life-saving efforts.
An autopsy was done on Monday but the results won’t be released, Wisemore said, until toxicology results are obtained. He said that could take up to 11 weeks.
Witness tapes fateful incident, praises police
A witness who videotaped the arrest praised sheriff’s deputies for the calm and professional way they handled the tense situation.
“They didn’t rough him up,” said Daniel Augustson, who lives near Pioneer Park. “It was not an abusive take-down. Everybody tried to keep him calm. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department did an extremely good job.”
Augustson, a general contractor in Waterville, said he’s been friends with Nalls for more than 10 years. He described Nalls, 40, as a friendly, helpful man who leaves behind a wife and young daughter.
“Jason worked hard and tried to provide for his family,” he said.
Augustson said he was asleep in his apartment across an alley from the park when he was awakened by a loud noise. He went outside and saw Nalls sitting in the driver’s seat of a patrol car and a deputy standing outside the car talking to him, trying to coax him out of the car. Nalls was repeatedly honking the car’s horn, he said.
Augustson said Nalls asked him to get a video camera and record the incident. So he went back to his home and retrieved a camera.
When he returned, he said Nalls asked him if he was taking video.
“The officer said, ‘Yes, he’s shooting a video,” Augustson said.
At that point, Nalls got out of the car on his own and laid down on the ground. He placed his left arm behind his back, Augustson said, but would not place his right arm behind his back.
“There was some struggling between the deputy and Jason to get the other arm behind his back,” he said.
At that point, Augustson said he placed the video camera on the ground, still on, and went to help the deputy. He said he tried to calm Nalls down, because they knew each other.
“He was very agitated,” Augustson said of Nalls. “He kept saying ‘Help me,’ and talked about Jesus. Then he would quiet down for awhile. I kept telling him, ‘Jason, everything’s all right. Let’s just get this over with.’ “
He said Nalls was face-down on the ground and, at one point, the officer had his knee on the side of Nalls back to hold him down.
Augustson said the deputy eventually placed one set of handcuffs on one of Nalls’ wrists and another set of handcuffs on his other wrist, then linked the cuffs together.
Within seconds after the handcuffs were on, a second Douglas County sheriff’s deputy arrived, Augustson said. The two deputies were talking calmly with Nalls, he said.
“Jason would say something, and we would let him know it’s OK, it’s all over with and help was coming,” Augustson said. “Then all of a sudden he just quit making noise. They rolled him over and you could tell there was something wrong.”
He said they checked Nalls’ pulse and began CPR immediately. An ambulance arrived about five minutes later, he said.
Augustson said he gave the video camera to investigators. Chelan County Undersheriff Wisemore, who is heading up the investigation, confirmed that they had video and that Augustson was the one who shot it and was present during the incident.
Augustson said he was shaken by the loss of a friend. He said a lot of people in Waterville knew Nalls because he did odd jobs for them. He said he has also driven truck for various farms over the years during wheat harvest. Nalls worked part time for Douglas County doing custodial work, groundkeeping and snow removal at the courthouse.
“Jason always wanted to help,” Augustson said.