In a press conference Friday morning, District Attorney Ben David said that no criminal charges will be filed in the in-custody death of former Brunswick County Sheriff Ron Hewett.
Hewett died suddenly July 12 while in federal custody at the New Hanover County Jail. He was being held under a federal detainer after several firearms were found at his home in Supply.
According to David, Hewett had a visitation scheduled with family around 2 p.m. on July 12. When deputies released Hewett from his cell into the pod area, he was wearing nothing but his boxers.
Deputies asked Hewett over the intercom to return to his cell and dress himself. Hewett refused and continued walking around the pod area looking into other inmates' cells. According to officials, inmates were becoming increasingly boisterous and banging on their cell doors.
A deputy entered the pod area to confront Hewett. Hewett became aggressive toward the deputy and tried to strike at him with a closed fist. The deputy gave several Taser warnings, but Hewett continued to be combative.
According to Assistant District Attorney Tom Old, the deputy then fired the Taser into Hewett's chest area. Hewett fell to the ground, rolled on the ground to attempt to remove the tasers, stood back up and attempted to strike at the deputy again.
The deputy tasered Hewett on his arms which appeared to have little effect.
Additional officers arrived in the pod area to assist the deputy. The officers were yelling commands at Hewett to "get down" but he refused. Old says that Hewett went after another deputy. The second deputy struck Hewett with a closed fist. The punch stunned Hewett but he continued attacking the second deputy.
Old says the first deputy reloaded his Taser and struck Hewett in his chest and his right hand. Hewett dropped to the ground and officers restrained him. Old says that no choke holds or undue pressure to Hewett's chest were used.
Deputies carried Hewett face down back to his cell and placed him on his mat face down. A nurse arrived shortly afterwards and had the Taser probes removed, but she said she was unable to complete the examination because Hewett was still aggressive.
Deputies say that while dealing with Hewett in his cell, Hewett said, "You know it takes a real talent to kill a man with a Taser. Y'all don't have the [explicit] to step up to a man." While kicking his legs and yelling to inmates, Hewett said, "I didn't go down like a coward boys. You all gotta fight."
Old said Hewett refused to cooperate with deputies 15 minutes after returning to his cell. Hewett was then placed on suicide watch. Everything was removed from Hewett's cell except for his sleeping mat.
Officials say Hewett wasn't showing any signs of breathing difficulties during the incident.
After Hewett was locked down, deputies checked on Hewett three times within a 10 minute span. During the second check, a deputy became concerned after Hewett wasn't moving.
The shift supervisor decided to re-enter Hewett's cell for a welfare check. Deputies entered Hewett's cell and noticed his face was blue.
Emergency officials were immediately notified and rushed to Hewett's cell to perform life-saving measures. After nearly 30 minutes, efforts to revive Hewett were stopped.
Dr. Bill Oliver performed Hewett's autopsy on July 14 and prepared a letter containing his findings to District Attorney Ben David.
Oliver's preliminary report reveals that Hewett died from a heart-related condition called dilated cardiomyopathy and the stress of subdual and chronic alcohol use were contributing factors in his death.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart's left ventricle, the main pumping chamber, becomes enlarged and can't pump blood efficiently.
According to Oliver's report, Hewett had an enlarged heart. Hewett's heart weighed 517 grams which is in the 95th percentile for men his height. Hewett's heart showed anatomic changes consistent with dilated cardiomyopathy.
Because of this condition, the report says Hewett was susceptible to sudden death irrespective of other issues. The risk of death is magnified in an environment that would cause extreme stress.
David asked Oliver to examine three aspects of the incident that could have led to Hewett's death; positional asphyxiation, taser-related, or excited delirium.
Oliver says that the position of the body while "hogtying" is unlikely to lead to death unless there was a history of severe breathing complications. Oliver went on to say that weight put on the back or chest to restrict movement isn't a reasonable mechanism for death unless there was an extraordinary amount of weight involved.
The second issue David raised, the tasering of Hewett, was also declared unlikely by Oliver. He says sudden cardiac death due to tasering is only possible in people with a particular body type and placement of the darts. A delayed death due to tasering is not likely.
Excited delirium was also ruled out because Hewett didn't appear to be delirious, disoriented, or disorganized.
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