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D.A.: No charges in death of man who died after jail scuffle

District Attorney Greg Newman announced today that no criminal charges will be brought against law enforcement personnel as a result of the death of an overweight man who passed out and later died after a scuffle at the jail.

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Bruce Dean Stafford, 55, of Mountain Home, had been arrested by the Hendersonville Police on July 13 and charged with the felony crimes of Obtaining Property by False Pretenses and Possession of Stolen Property for trying to sell stolen Chihuahua puppies to the Fish and Pets store on Spartanburg Highway. When taken to the county jail, Stafford was agitated and argumentative with law enforcement officers who were trying to get him through the book-in process, the district attorney said in a news release. This process includes going before a magistrate and having a bond established and also being photographed and fingerprinted.

Stafford became combative with both the sheriff’s deputies and arresting officer Robert Underwood and resisted the officers' efforts to complete the booking process. He then lost consciousness and was taken to the emergency room where he was pronounced dead. Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald followed the statewide protocol by immediately requesting the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the incident.

“I have reviewed the investigative reports provided by the SBI and have concluded that the officers’ actions did nothing to cause the death of Mr. Stafford,” Newman said in the news release. “Without getting too personal about his medical history, Mr. Stafford’s autopsy showed that his heart attack at the jail was caused by the pre-existing conditions of heart disease and from an enlarged heart, among other long standing health issues. No one knows why he was so belligerent with the officers, but clearly he was not a person in good health and the officers gave him every opportunity to handle the situation differently."

“Like everyone else, I am well aware of the news reports in other states where the tactics of the police are questionable, but my experience is that our officers here in Hendersonville and Henderson County treat people fairly,” added Newman. “They do, however, expect their directions to be followed by the public when making an arrest or attempting to bring order to a volatile and dangerous situation. I appreciate our police officers and deputy sheriffs for enforcing our laws and providing a safe community for all of us to live, work and raise our families. They have a difficult job and are to be highly commended for their service,” Newman said.

Newman said he considers the matter closed as far as his office is concerned and will recommend the SBI to take no additional action in the case.