PORT ORCHARD — A multi-agency law enforcement team of investigators found no indication of criminal intent or negligence involving Kitsap County corrections officers related to the death of inmate Sean Michael Howell earlier this year.
Investigators affiliated with the Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team (KCIRT) filed a report Nov. 5 with the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office for review of any charging decisions related to the man’s death.
According to the report, team investigators interviewed 19 corrections officers from Kitsap County Jail who were either involved or witnessed the incident, as well as four members of the jail nursing staff who were on duty the day of the incident.
KCIRT was brought in to investigate the use of force that was suspected of causing the death of Howell, 28, who was arrested on May 8 by the Bremerton Police Department and booked into the jail for first-degree murder.
According to the team’s report, county corrections officers responded at around 10:30 a.m., May 9 to an incident involving Howell, who was housed in a crisis cell and attempting to tamper with the cell’s sprinkler system. Four corrections officers and one sergeant entered the suspect’s cell and attempted to restrain him with the intention of moving him to another cell.
Jail reports indicate Howell began to resist violently, whereupon corrections officers used pepper spray and a taser on him, both of which had little to no effect on the man. They were able to place him in a restraint chair, but as he was uprighted, they realized Howell was no longer breathing. Officers and medical staff on-site immediately began CPR and called for additional aid. He was taken to a hospital, where he remained unresponsive.
The report stated one of the responding corrections officers was hospitalized with injuries sustained during the incident. The officer was treated and released the same day.
Howell was removed from life support the morning of May 15. The Kitsap County Coroner’s Office determined that the man’s cause of death was “restraint asphyxia” and the manner of death was deemed homicide, a definition of which involves the death of an individual caused by another person.
It was decided that investigators from Bremerton Police and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office — the two agencies whose officers were involved in the incident — would not take part in the investigation. Subsequently, the Washington State Patrol was named the lead investigating agency, with assistance from Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Shelton police department detectives.
In accordance with a Washington state statute, two community members not associated with law enforcement agencies were included in the investigative process, which included being provided advance copies of media releases, receiving regular briefings on the investigation’s progress, and having access to the entire investigated file at the conclusion of the investigation.
KCIRT said the investigators participated in a vetting process to preclude conflict of interest and ensure credibility to participate in the investigation. A family liaison also was assigned to Howell’s next of kin and has been in contact with them throughout the investigation.