Parents still seek answers in death at hands of police

Kristi O’Harran

Kristi’s Notebook

A Imagine expecting your oldest son for brunch on a Sunday morning. The buzzer rings and you release the security bar. You expect to hear a familiar "Hello, I’m here, and I’m starving."

Instead, a police officer hands you a card with a phone number for the coroner’s office in Portland, Ore.

That is how Carol Marsall of Lynnwood and Ralph Lowery of Snohomish learned their child was dead.

On Dec. 4, 1999, their son, Damon Lowery, 29, from Lynnwood, gave a friend a ride to Portland. After arriving at the home of the friend’s girlfriend, some hallucinogenic mushrooms were eaten.

"Supposedly, Damon became very emotional," Marsall said. "A fight broke out between the two guys, and the police were called."

Police responded and called for backup. Lowery jumped or fell out of a window and hit a concrete patio where he was confronted by Portland police.

"By police accounts, Damon did not respond or comply to their wishes to show hands, so they proceeded to fire numerous bean bags at him from close range and even shot him in the groin to get his attention," Marsall said.

"When he still did not put his arms out like an airplane, they emptied cans of pepper spray on his face and wounded head. Then they used asp batons to repeatedly hit him. Police reports show that Damon tried to get away and fell over a fence. According to police reports, they continued to beat him until their arms were tired. Damon was handcuffed and hog tied, strapped face down on a gurney and put in an ambulance."

Lowery was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

The parents are left with many questions about the fate of their son. For instance, why wasn’t a special police unit called with officers trained to deal with those in mental distress?

Portland Detective Stuart Winn said there was no time to get other officers to the scene.

"The situation evolved so quickly," Winn said from his office in Portland. "This guy was obviously having some kind of problem that made him a danger. They knew they had to contain him and get him into custody. It seemed to me, officers acted as they should have."

A grand jury was impaneled to review the death, and the officers’ actions were ruled justifiable.

Winn said as a family searches for reasons for the loss of a loved one, they look for more meaningful answers than there was a fight, and he cut his throat.

"I’m not sure there is more to it than that," Winn said. "It’s an unfortunate case."

At the time of the death, the family rushed to Oregon. They were not able to see their son’s body until a few days later when Lowery was brought to a Lynnwood funeral home.

"He was horribly beaten up", Marsall said. "His head was terribly bruised and torn up. There were marks all over his face. They were circular marks, not cuts from glass. His whole body was badly bruised."

Marsall said her son was a nice-looking guy. Lowery prided himself on keeping physically fit.

"He had a beautiful smile and a great laugh," she said. "He loved kids and looked forward to having his own. How can his family possibly understand the senselessness of this? We miss him terribly."

Ralph Lowery said police are there to protect, not inflict pain, or make a situation worse. He said he doesn’t believe explanations of the police justify their actions.

Damon’s parents have spent almost a year gathering information about the death. They have amassed paperwork, including coroner reports, police statements, paramedic information and trauma doctors’ findings.

The couple have spent their savings in the quest. There is a Damon I. Lowery Memorial Fund set up at any Washington Mutual Savings Bank.

"It’s very hard to find out anything when you are constantly trying to deal with city hall," Ralph Lowery said. "Every piece of paper has a cost and phone calls are rarely returned."

Among their many questions, they said they aim to find out why Lowery was placed face down on a gurney when there has been so much controversy about this type of treatment of people in custody.

"Here is anybody’s son," Ralph Lowery said. "It could happen to anyone."

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