MALTBY — A new lawsuit claims a Maltby-area man shouldn’t have died at the hands of Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies in March 2017, when they beat him, choked him to unconsciousness and shocked him with a stun gun.
The struggle should have never taken place, the family claims. Alex Dold, 29, didn’t present any real threat that night, and the deputies should have known better than to use a stun gun on someone who was mentally ill. The plaintiffs — Dold’s sister and mother — also blame a lack of appropriate training on the part of the sheriff’s office.
The wrongful death complaint, filed March 10 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, names Snohomish County and two deputies, Bryson McGee and Cody McCoy, as the defendants. The family is asking for damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
Dold stood 6 feet tall and weighed 220 pounds, and he was known among his friends as a “gentle giant.” For years, he was a card dealer at a Shoreline casino. He liked to try out new languages and had dreams of traveling. He played pick-up soccer games in Snohomish and afterward could be seen at Pilchuck Drive-In.
The 29-year-old also had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He heard voices. Anxiety came in waves. He was in and out of the hospital for mental health treatment, typically with positive results.
Talking to a Herald reporter in 2018, his sister explained what it was like to care for a loved one with a mental illness.
“You watch them unravel,” she said. “It’s like watching your loved one die of cancer for 10 years.”
According to family, Dold hadn’t taken his medication in two months the night he died.
‘Get him help’
On March 22, 2017, Dold had been fighting with his mother about wanting more money, at their home near Echo Lake Road. They wrestled over her phone, which smacked her in the face and gave her a fat lip. He reportedly pulled a lanyard off her neck and flipped a recliner with her in it.
After he left, Dold’s mother and sister tried to figure out what to do to get him help. They called crisis lines, but a mental health professional wouldn’t come because Dold hadn’t been acting violent enough.
So his mother dialed 911, with the hopes that paramedics would involuntarily commit her son.
“We didn’t want him to turn into someone he’s not,” his sister told The Herald in 2018. “It was our opportunity to get him help.”
She told the dispatcher that Dold needed to go to a psychiatric ward. She didn’t need an aid car, and Dold had calmed down since their brief scuffle, she reported. This was the first time he had acted violently, she said.
According to the lawsuit, the dispatcher told deputies that Dold was “mental and off his meds,” and referred to him as a suspect.
When deputies arrived at the house, Dold and his mother were watching “Jeopardy.” Dold answered the door, and after a brief exchange of words, he attempted to close it. He was likely confused what they were doing at his home, family said. He didn’t know his mother had called 911.
But before Dold could shut the door, deputies forced their way inside and chased him into a bedroom.
What followed was an 18-minute struggle that moved through the house, outside onto a porch and down the stairs. The deputies punched and kicked Dold and struck him with a baton, according to the lawsuit. They allegedly choked him to the point of unconsciousness twice, and used a stun gun on him seven times.
“If you keep resisting we’re gonna break your (expletive) fingers,” a deputy said during the fight, according to the lawsuit.
At one point, a deputy reportedly told Dold, “I could shoot you.”
Meanwhile, Dold’s mother pleaded with deputies.
“Please don’t hurt him,” she said, according to the complaint. “He’s schizophrenic; he doesn’t understand what you’re saying.”
By the time Dold was handcuffed, his heart stopped. Monroe officers, who had responded to a call for help, noted he wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. Lifesaving efforts failed to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Searching for truth
The lawsuit notes McGee previously had used a stun gun on another suspect, who also died.
In 2010, deputies responded to reports of a man shouting in a Gold Bar neighborhood. Alex Colliers, 25, was high on methamphetamine, rambling incoherently and refused to be handcuffed. McGee shocked Colliers three times, as he was lying on the ground, in an attempt to get him to comply
Colliers stopped breathing. An autopsy later found he had suffered a heart attack. The medical examiner concluded that a high level of drugs, extreme agitation and a struggle likely contributed to the heart attack. His death was ruled an accident.
Three years later, Colliers’ family sued the county and McGee, alleging the deputy used excessive force and that the sheriff’s office failed to adequately train deputies in the use of Tasers. The county settled for $600,000, and in doing so, admitted no wrongdoing.
Dold’s family calls the sheriff’s failure to discipline McGee after that encounter a “proximate cause” in the death of Dold.
“Long before the death of Alexander Dold, Snohomish County knew that tasing mentally ill persons created a risk that the tased person would die from either excited delirium or cardiac arrest or a combination of those two things,” the lawsuit states.
So far, Dold’s family has not been satisfied with the county’s assessment of the 2017 encounter.
The Snohomish County medical examiner determined Dold died from heart problems and ruled his death an accident. Contributing factors included schizophrenia and the fight with police that included the use of stun guns. At the same time, the medical examiner concluded the level of force used was “generally not considered to be life-threatening,” reports say.
An independent investigation of the incident was completed by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, or SMART, a task force of detectives that reviews instances in which police use potentially fatal force. Reviewing that investigation, then-Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe declined to pursue charges against the deputies, writing that Dold’s death “cannot be attributed to any improper actions by police.”
The sheriff’s office also conducted an administrative review of the encounter with Dold, and both McGee and McCoy were found to have acted within policy, sheriff’s spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said.
Neither deputy currently works for the sheriff’s office. O’Keefe said the sheriff will not comment on pending litigation.
Many of the allegations brought up in the wrongful death lawsuit echo concerns raised by the family two years ago, when family talked with The Herald.
“I just want the truth and changes so that other families don’t go through this,” Dold’s sister told a reporter at the time. “He got killed because he was sick. That’s not fair.”
Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @zachariahtb.