SOUTH BEND – A 31-year-old South Bend man died in police custody July 21 and prompted an outcry from concerned community members and his family. But Thursday, the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s office laid out its case for reporters with evidence Chief Deputy Prosecutor Ken Cotter said proves that police were not responsible for Michael Anderson’s death and shows officers and medics did everything they could to save him.
The case, Cotter said, is supported by facts and evidence. But along with a private investigator retained by the family’s attorney, Anderson’s father still doesn’t think he’s hearing the truth.
“Why was he even being pursued? He was doing nothing wrong,” Delmonte Anderson told reporters after Cotter’s nearly 90 minute presentation.
But police said it started with a report of a blue stolen moped that was missing rearview mirrors. Dash cam video played during a presentation Thursday showed an officer spotted Michael Anderson on a blue moped without rearview mirrors at a gas station around 11:30 p.m. on July 21. The officer yelled at Anderson to stop, but he sped off.
“When Mr. Anderson didn’t stop and in fact took off from [the police officer], it’s not only moved from that reasonable suspicion from whether or not he’s in possession of that stolen moped,” Cotter said. It’s now become a crime. He’s resisting law enforcement.”
Cotter pointed out running from police using a motorized vehicle is a felony offense, according to Indiana law.
The chief deputy prosecutor then said Anderson either fell or jumped off the moped and continued to run from police. One officer attempted to use his taser on Anderson but Cotter said that attempt was not effective because both taser probes must be in a person’s skin for the device to send an electric current through someone’s body. In this case, the evidence showed one taser probe by a light pole and an external examination by a forensic pathologist showed another one apparently punctured Anderson’s tricep muscle, Cotter continued.
Reporters also heard interviews from four witnesses about what happened next.
One witness said he saw Anderson put something in his mouth before he tripped and fell.
“Once he fell, the officer began to arrest him and then he started choking and they began to rescussitate him,” said Lin Bradbury, one witness interviewed by police. “What he was choking on, they couldn't get it out.”
Cotter also focused part of his presentation on a straw he says an officer grabbed from his squad car to try and remove whatever was blocking Anderson’s airway. He said Metro Homicide investigators did not retrieve that straw from the scene and did not know of its significance in their investigation until sometime after Anderson died, but Cotter maintained the officer who used it was trying to save Anderson’s life.
Anderson’s father told reporters he believed that straw may have pushed materials already in his son’s throat further down into his body, thus causing his death.
“They was watching him, definitely targeting him,” added Delmonte Anderson.
What Cotter said was unedited police radio traffic demonstrated that the foot chase between police and Anderson lasted 28 seconds until he was on the ground, in handcuffs. Then, 29 seconds after that, officers called for an ambulance.
Four people removed four different items from Anderson’s mouth and body at four different times, Cotter added – a police officer removed a baggie of marijuana from Anderson’s mouth when he noticed Anderson was choking, another officer removed a dollar bill from Anderson’s throat a short time later, a South Bend firefighter took a golf ball size baggie of marijuana from Anderson’s esophagus when he noticed the suspect’s airway was blocked and a forensic pathologist removed a bag of cocaine from Anderson’s lungs during the autopsy.
But the private investigator hired by the Anderson’s attorney, along with Michael Anderson’s dad said they still have questions.
“There’s certain information that they presented in there that we know is clearly not correct,” said Shana Penn, with Tri-Force, Inc.
Penn claimed the prosecutor’s office and County Metro Homicide Unit have not been cooperative with her investigation. She also said they’ve given her inaccurate information about which officers were actually on the scene and that police did not interview all the witnesses who saw what happened.
She also told reporters the city has refused to give up all of the reports and dash cam video from the investigation, but Cotter said the pathologist just finished his report Wednesday – and they haven’t been able to share that information until now.
But Cotter said the facts are clear.
“On that day, Mr. Anderson himself ingested bags, he fell, he choked and he ultimately died based on his own actions and not the actions of any police officer,” Cotter concluded.
Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley has also said he invited the Anderson family to review the facts of the case, but the family refused his invitation because investigators would not allow Penn to attend the meeting.
Michael Anderson’s arrest record shows he was arrested 27 times between 1998 and 2009 by South Bend and St. Joseph County police.