FDL man died in police custody after swallowing cocaine, family plans to file lawsuit
Family of Christopher Cary intends to file federal lawsuit claiming he was illegally search and detained
FOND DU LAC - A 37-year-old Fond du Lac man died Dec. 23 while in police custody after ingesting twice the amount of raw cocaine which would cause an overdose, an investigation has ruled.
However, his family's attorney says they intend to file a federal lawsuit to hold accountable those who caused Christopher Cary's untimely death.
Cary was out on bail for a prior felony drug charge when he was pulled over at about 9:30 p.m. in downtown Fond du Lac for not having a front license plate on the Chevy Impala he was driving.
As he was pulled over, authorities believe he ripped open baggies filled with cocaine and swallowed the drugs. A search of Cary's vehicle turned up torn plastic sandwich bags in the driver's door storage area, and loose pieces of a white, rock-like substance on the driver's seat.
FDL District Attorney Eric Toney gives his findings in the in custody death of Christopher Cary. Douglas Raflik, Fond du Lac Reporter
During a press conference Friday afternoon at the Fond du Lac Police Department, a video from the police squad of the traffic stop was played, and cut off when Cary appears distressed in the back of the squad.
Fond du Lac District Attorney Eric Toney said the graphic nature of Cary's medical emergency was not shown out of respect to his family.
Cary was taken by ambulance to St. Agnes Hospital where he was pronounced dead at about 11:24 p.m. An autopsy ruled the cause of death as acute cocaine toxicity.
Toney said his summary of the investigation, conducted by the Sheboygan Police Department, found that Cary caused his own death, and the three officers involved, Sandra O'Donell, Brandon Meudt and Trenton Smith, acted appropriately.
"The death of anyone is tragic and becomes even more profound when the death occurs in circumstances involving law enforcement officers," Toney said. "The emotional impact on the family of Mr. Cary and the officers will last well beyond today."
In reaction to Toney's findings, the Cary family's attorney Jarrett Adams issued a statement late Friday that contends Cary died because he was illegally searched, detained for over an hour and not provided urgent medical care.
The traffic stop revealed Cary had no driver's license on him, no proof of insurance and was not wearing a seat belt. O'Donnell called for backup, and a Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office police dog was called to assist in a search for drugs.
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After Smith arrived at the scene, Cary was asked to exit the vehicle and stand on the sidewalk so O'Donnell could explain the traffic citations being issued. Meanwhile, the police dog indicated a hit on drugs in Cary's vehicle, and officers observed the zipper to his pants was open and thought he may have hidden drugs in his underwear.
The search turned up $626 in cash, which Cary said he won gambling at a local tavern.
Carey was placed in the back of squad at 10:09 p.m. where he uttered some expletives and appeared to be making some smacking and chewing noises. During this time his girlfriend arrived at the scene and spoke with officers.
About two minutes later Cary began to yell: "Help me, help me," and went into convulsions indicative of a seizure. An ambulance arrived about 10:19 p.m. and paramedics worked on Cary, who was still breathing at the time, until they departed for the hospital at 10:42 p.m.
A paramedic told investigators that once Cary was placed in the ambulance he had no pulse and wasn't breathing. CPR and life-saving measures were administered.
The third officer, Meudt, said he responded to the scene when he saw what appeared to be a hysterical female subject — Cary's girlfriend — standing on the sidewalk.
Police Chief Bill Lamb said Cary's death is sad and tragic, and his officers acted "swiftly and professionally" in calling an ambulance within seconds when it was apparent Cary was in medical distress.
"We commend the officers involved for their immediate action to try to help him, and for the care they extended to him while in custody," Lamb said. "The situation has also been difficult on our officers that were involved and their families and we extend our sympathies to each of them."
Adams says Cary leaves behind a loving family with three daughters, all of whom are grieving and deeply disturbed by the fact his death could have been prevented.
"Christopher was entitled to due process of law, as every American and instead he was tried and convicted in the back seat of a car," Adams said. "This sends a chilling message to all Fond du Lac residents that the police can arbitrarily stop you, detain you and control whether you live or die."
The Sheboygan Police Department's investigation, completed on Jan. 19, included a review of the squad videos, a search of both vehicles, interviews with emergency responders, police officers and Cary's girlfriend, who owned the car he was driving. Cary was talking to her on a cellphone when the second squad arrived at the scene.
According to online court records Cary was out on bail after posting a $20,000 cash bond. He was scheduled to appear in court Feb. 11 for multiple charges, involving cocaine and maintaining a drug trafficking place.