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D.A. clears officers in death of coke-powered suspect in parking lot

Officers who restrained a domestic violence suspect "are not criminally liable for his death" because the man "aggressively resisted arrest while ... impaired by potentially lethal amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine," District Attorney Andrew Murray announced Wednesday as he released a letter to the SBI supporting his decision.

"After a thorough review of all the facts and evidence presented, it is my conclusion that the law enforcement officers attempting to restrain Christopher Hensley are not criminally liable for his death," Murray wrote in a letter to SBI Special Agent in Charge Chuck Vines. "The officers were lawfully attempting to restrain Mr. Hensley during a domestic violence call in which Hensley aggressively resisted arrest while suffering from a heart condition and impaired by potentially lethal amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine."

In addition to his letter to Vines, Murray on Wednesday morning released his summary of the SBI's "extremely voluminous investigative report," findings from an autopsy and his decision clearing the officers of wrongdoing in the use of force.

The report detailed how Hensley, 35, died on the night of June 15, 2022, after a 14-minute period of violently resisting efforts by numerous officers to be restrained and handcuffed. Fletcher police officers had responded at 8:37 p.m. to a call from the Seasons at Cane Creek apartments by Teresa Hensley, a young mother who "reported that her husband was on some type of drugs, that he was acting erratically, and that he would not let her leave their apartment with her newborn baby (3 weeks old) and their 4-year-old daughter," the report said. Teresa's observation that her husband "was on some type of drugs was confirmed by the postmortem report of the decedent which revealed potentially lethal levels of cocaine (.45 mg/L) and methamphetamine (1.7 mg/L} and their metabolites."

Trying to deescalate the situation in the couple's apartment, officers led the "uncooperative, angry, and extremely agitated" Hensley to the parking lot so his wife could pack up her children and belongings in order to leave with her father, who was en route to rescue her.

"Over the course of the next 4-5 minutes in the parking area, the defendant's profanity dramatically escalated, and he became more belligerent and hostile," the summary said. "Both officers continuously asked the decedent to just calm down, take a breath, and to just take a walk or ride away from the area long enough for them to make certain his wife could safely leave. Hensley became increasingly threatening in nature, and loudly asserted that the officers were not going back up to his apartment with his wife and children there, 'he f_ing guaranteed' that they were not going near his wife and children again."

The situation "deteriorated when the decedent attempted to maneuver around a parked vehicle for the believed purpose of allowing him unimpeded access to the stairwell leading to his apartment. Officers told the decedent 'not to do it' and an officer placed his hand on the decedent's shoulder. The decedent became immediately incensed and started screaming, 'get the f_ off of me.' At this time, the officers informed the decedent that he was being detained."

That triggered the epic struggle in which Hensley, who stood 5 feet 11 inches and weighed 272 pounds, refused to be restrained.

"During the course of this 14-minute struggle, before handcuffs were successfully placed on the decedent," Murray said, "the involved officers called for additional officers several times, as it became readily apparent that two officers, then three officers, then three officers and a young male Good Samaritan, with the officers utilizing every non-lethal tool and trained technique available to them to gain control of the decedent, including leg sweeps, taser discharges, defensive maneuvers, distractive body blows, and what would typically be an overpowering number of officers, were having no effect on the hyped up decedent, who was also an avid weight lifter."

At 9:06 p.m., with Hensley on his stomach, five officers "were finally able to gain some semblance of control of the decedent and placed him in handcuffs." In one last violent act, Hensley "mule kicked the officer positioned at his legs" before he "became motionless." Officers rolled him over, administered Narcan and tried to revive him with chest compressions until EMS arrived.

An autopsy determined the cause of death to be "sudden cardiac death in the setting of cocaine and methamphetamine toxicity, dilated cardiomyopathy and physical restraint," Murray's report said, adding that toxicology tests detected potentially lethal levels of cocaine and and methamphetamine.

"The autopsy concluded that the physical restraint of the decedent contributed to the decedent's death," Murray acknowledged. "There is no doubt that the decedent's prolonged period of maximum physical exertion was stressing on his heart. However, he also suffered from a moderate heart defect and had ingested potentially lethal amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine, which are both stimulant drugs. Sadly, the decedent died of a heart attack caused by multiple contributing factors. Two of the three factors were within his power to prevent. The decedent ingested potentially lethal amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine by choice, and by choice he controlled the length and degree of physical exertion he was enduring. At any time during his interaction with law enforcement officers, he could have simply capitulated to being handcuffed and the incident would have been over. As such, I do not find that any of the officers that were involved in restraining the decedent were criminally responsible for his death by heart attack."

With that conclusion, Murray directed the SBI to close the file and return evidence to the Fletcher police department.