Sean Michael Howell died of restraint asphyxia on May 15 at the Kitsap County Jail after a struggle with corrections officers in his crisis cell. (File photo)

Sean Michael Howell died of restraint asphyxia on May 15 at the Kitsap County Jail after a struggle with corrections officers in his crisis cell. (File photo)

‘Restraint asphyxia’ is ruled as the cause of inmate’s death

KCIRT continuing to investigate facts surrounding Sean Michael Howell’s death

By Mike De Felice

Special to Kitsap Daily News

PORT ORCHARD — Following the finding last week by the county coroner that the death of a Kitsap County Jail inmate involved in an incident with corrections officers was ruled a homicide, Sheriff Gary Simpson pointed out an independent investigation into the death is not yet complete.

The coroner found the cause of Sean Michael Howell’s death on May 15, 2020, was by “restraint asphyxia.”

Howell, 28, was arrested by Bremerton police May 8 in an investigation into the death of his 23-year-old girlfriend, according to the Washington State Patrol. He was transported by police to the Kitsap County Jail and booked for first-degree murder on May 8.

Around 10:30 am the following day, officers observed Howell — housed in a crisis cell — attempting to tamper with the cell’s sprinkler system. Correction officers entered Howell’s cell and attempted to restrain him in order to move him to a different cell. Howell began to violently resist, according to the state patrol, resulting in Howell and a corrections officer being injured and transported to the hospital.

The corrections officer was treated and released. Howell died the morning of May 15 at Harrison Medical Center, now named St. Michael Medical Center.

Simpson, Kitsap County’s sheriff, oversees correction officers in the jail. No corrections officers have been placed on leave following the incident, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson.

An investigation into Howell’s death is being conducted by the Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team (KCIRT). The Washington State Patrol is the lead investigating agency. No Kitsap County sheriff’s investigators are involved.

“With the definition of homicide, it simply means that the action of another contributed to the death,” said Kitsap County Coroner ​​Jeff Wallis.

“The mission of our office to just determine cause and manner [of death]. We don’t determine criminality. We don’t determine guilty or innocence,” Wallis said.

The coroner also expanded on what restraint asphyxia means while stressing he was not addressing the Howell incident but instead was speaking in general terms.

“Restraint asphyxia is when someone is put into a certain position where it is harder for them to breathe. And that generally is an unintended consequence,” he said.

“When someone is having to be restrained, the goal is to get them where they cannot hurt themselves or anybody else. The whole concept behind restraint asphyxia is sometimes, in order to get them in a position where you can keep them from hurting themselves or anybody else for a period of time, they are in a position where it is difficult for them to breathe,” Wallis said.

Simpson stressed that the investigation is being conducted independently by KCIRT.

“It needs to be reviewed in the totality of the facts and circumstances. The investigation is not yet complete.” Simpson said.

“I have full confidence and faith KCIRT will complete its investigation and provide all the facts involved in this matter,” the sheriff said.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the county prosecutor’s office will conduct a review of the incident, he added.

In addition, the sheriff’s office of professional standards will conduct an investigative review of the policies, procedures and actions taken by the agency, Simpson said.

KCIRT is led by a WSP detective sergeant and includes three other state patrol detectives and detectives from the Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Shelton police departments. Two citizens are also included on the team. A team member acts as a liaison to the deceased’s family to keep them informed of the investigation’s progress.

More in News

Two-year Kitsap crime fugitive Doll apprehended in Bremerton

Postal office thief, last living in Port Orchard, was arrested Wednesday

What’s that popping noise? It’s likely from naval exercises

Security Forces training will use blank ammunition this afternoon at NBK-Bremerton

Fathoms Royalty Court finding new ways for fun

Queen and her court wave to Bay Street motorists

Longtime local to help lead Poulsbo orchestra

The new executive director of the Poulsbo Community Orchestra has been involved… Continue reading

Kilmer bill renames Bremerton post office for Black naval sailor

The House of Representatives has unanimously passed U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s legislation… Continue reading

Health District again confirms only 3 new cases of COVID-19 in Kitsap County

Highest number in Bremerton with 53; lowest in BI with 45

Veteran teacher talks new normal for NKSD school year

School has been “back in session” in the North Kitsap School District… Continue reading

New Poulsbo Port Commissioner named

Port of Poulsbo has named Tom Rose as its new commissioner following… Continue reading

Poulsbo to convert 2 parcels of land into affordable housing

The Poulsbo City Council voted Wednesday night in favor of a resolution… Continue reading

Most Read