Medical examiner: Fletcher man's 2022 death in police custody classified as 'homicide'
The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has concluded that Christopher Hensley's 2022 in-custody death is "best classified as homicide," according to an autopsy report obtained Feb. 3 by the Citizen Times.
Hensley, who was 35, died after an alleged "fight" with law enforcement outside a Fletcher apartment complex on June 15, 2022. Video captured by a neighbor and obtained by the Citizen Times showed at least seven law enforcement officers surrounding Hensley, with several officers pinning him down as he screamed.
At the time, the neighbor told the Citizen Times that Hensley appeared to be in a mental health crisis.
The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation is still investigating the incident, spokesperson Angie Grube told the Citizen Times Feb. 3. The agency had also just received the autopsy, Grube said.
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"According to the Henderson County Medical Examiner, the decedent was engaged in a domestic dispute with his significant other when law enforcement intervened," the state medical examiner's report says.
"He had a history of cocaine use and was acting agitated when law enforcement arrived," the report adds. "A physical altercation occurred with law enforcement during which an electric control device and physical restraint were utilized. During restraint, he became unresponsive and resuscitation was attempted by law enforcement and emergency medical providers, but efforts were futile."
Hensley had a "moderately enlarged and dilated heart with mild narrowing of one of the major arteries supplying the heart with blood." The report also notes multiple "scrapes, bruises and skin tears were present without significant underlying soft tissue injuries."
"Because physical restraint contributed to death, the manner of death is best classified as homicide," the autopsy says.
The report adds that toxicological "testing of postmortem femoral blood samples detected potentially lethal levels of cocaine (and its metabolite) and methamphetamine (and its metabolite)."
What is status of officers involved in incident?
On June 24, 2022, Fletcher Police Chief Daniel Terry said that two of his employees were on leave: Sgt. Michael Elizondo and Officer Michael Teets.
The same day, Henderson County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Johnny Duncan said five deputies were on leave. They were Seth Summey, Zack Ritter, Josh Garren, Zach Warren and Rob Martin.
Those deputies involved in the incident are not on leave anymore, according to a Feb. 3 email from Duncan. "Upon the (completion) of our internal investigation they were returned to regular duty," he said.
Duncan did not respond when asked when the internal investigation was completed.
"As previously stated, this matter is being investigated by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NCSBI) and the Sheriff’s Office will have no comment on this incident," he said. "Any comments on this incident will need to come from the NCSBI and or the District Attorney’s Office."
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One week after Tyre Nichols' beating death video
The release of Hensley's autopsy report came exactly one week after the release of body worn camera footage was released in the beating death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, a Black father, by Memphis police officers. Nichols was pulled from a car at a traffic stop, tased and beaten Jan. 7. He died three days later. In that case, which has made international headlines, local leaders, including Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis, and Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, moved swiftly to condemn the act.
As of Feb. 3, several Memphis police officers have been fired in relation to Nichols' death, and five have been charged with crimes including second-degree murder.
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Henderson County District Attorney Andrew Murray said he had not seen the autopsy, the SBI's file or the video, and he declined to comment further.
He would not say whether he would release information on his decision to charge or not charge the officers involved until he had time to review the SBI's file, he said.
Murray, who served as DA of Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, from 2011 to 2017, estimated last year that he dealt with more than 10 instances in which officers shot and killed someone, including the 2016 death of Keith Lamont Scott that led to widespread protests. In none of those instances did Murray bring charges.
When completed, the SBI's report on the investigation, which by state law is not public, is given to the district attorney who faces two main questions. The first is whether there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. If there is not probable cause, the prosecutor is ethically bound not to pursue charges. If there is probably cause, then the DA decides whether to move forward based on multiple factors.
Henderson County Board of Commissioners Chair Rebecca McCall also declined to comment, citing the investigation.
"Being as this matter is still under investigation by the NC State Bureau of Investigations and review by the Henderson County District Attorney, we cannot comment at this time," McCall said.
Fletcher Mayor Preston Blakely declined to comment. He said he had just learned of the autopsy and needed to "learn more" before commenting.
The Citizen Times has also reached out to Fletcher Police Chief Daniel Terry, who did not immediately respond.
Ryan Oehrli covers public safety, breaking news, courts and other beats for the Citizen Times. Comments? Questions? Tips? Send them to email@example.com.
Andrew Jones is an investigative reporter for the Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Medical examiner: Fletcher man's in-custody death a homicide