The Coweta County District Attorney’s Office will not be pursuing charges related to the Nov. 20, 2015 death of Chase Sherman, a Florida man who died on Interstate 85 after being tased and restrained.
Sherman, 32, of Destin, was having a psychotic episode in the back of a rented Jeep Patriot as his family drove from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Florida.
The state medical examiner ruled the manner of death a homicide, and the cause of death was “sudden death during an altercation with law enforcement with several trigger pulls of an electronic control device, prone position on the floor of a motor vehicle and compression of the torso by the body weight of another individual.”
As they entered Coweta County on I-85, Sherman’s mother Mary Ann called 911 to ask for help, reporting that he was “freaking out” and might cause them to have a wreck.
A dispatcher asked her what was causing the incident. “Drugs. Drugs. He’s hallucinating. He needs help, he needs to be taken to a mental hospital,” she said. “He’s going to kill us all if we don’t.”
During the call, Sherman’s fiancé, Patti Galloway, who was driving, pulled the vehicle over to the left hand side of the interstate, against the concrete median wall.
Two Coweta County deputies, Josh Sepanski and Sam Smith, arrived on the scene and attempted to control Sherman in the backseat of the vehicle, where he was along with his father.
Sherman struggled with the officers at times, attempting to break handcuffs and grab Tasers. He was tased multiple times by both deputies. About five minutes into the struggle, Coweta County Firefighter/EMT Danny Elliot, got in the front seat and helped hold Sherman down, first with his hands and later with his knees. Shortly after Elliot entered the vehicle, they rolled Sherman into the floorboard where he was on his knees with his head down.
Ten seconds later, Sherman said, “Okay, I quit. I quit.” He moved some during the next few minute, and said “Oh, s**t,” as Elliot climbed up and puts his knee in his back.
He started kicking shortly thereafter. About three minutes later, the deputies and Elliot realize Sherman was not breathing. They pulled him out of the vehicle started cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but Sherman never regained consciousness.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in to handle the investigation into the “use of force” death. Once the GBI investigation was complete, the report was handed over to the Coweta District Attorney’s Office in early February.
District Attorney Peter Skandalakis said that his office would expedite the case. The office released videos from the deputies’ dash and body cameras on May 20. In August, Skandalakis said the GBI was supplementing the file with some additional information.
In early September, Sherman’s family petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own investigation.
In the press release issued Monday, Skandalakis stated that after thorough and careful review, including repeated viewings of the videos, and consideration of applicable law, he was not going to bring charges.
“The death of Mr. Chase Sherman, while tragic in nature, is not a criminal matter and, therefore, will be be prosecuted further under state law.”
“I appreciate the thoroughness of the GBI and the district attorney’s investigation of this case,” said Coweta Sheriff Mike Yeager. One of the two deputies relocated to work for another agency in the state, while the other is still with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office. Yeager would not specify which man is still employed locally.
Yeager said he doesn’t feel that Sherman should be referred to as a victim. He was the perpetrator in an assault against his family, he said.
Coweta Fire Chief Pat Wilson said that, because of the possibility of a civil suit, he would not make a comment.
The Sherman family’s attorney, Chris Stewart of Atlanta, was quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the family was “profoundly disappointed” with the DA’s decision and planned to file a multimillion dollar civil suit.
Stewart and the family are holding a press conference today at Stewart’s Atlanta office.
The Shermans had just returned from a family wedding in the Dominican Republic. Chase Sherman had reportedly been acting strangely and not sleeping much, if at all, during the trip. At the airport, he began acting erratically, so the family cancelled their connecting flight to Destin and decided to drive home.
Mrs. Sherman told the 911 operator that Sherman had smoked “Spice,” a name for several varieties of synthetic cannabinoids, sometimes referred to as “synthetic marijuana,” and that it had “messed his brain up.”
No drugs were found in Chase Sherman’s system. “Given the family’s previous statements about Sherman’s drug use at the time, the toxicology results were surprising and it cannot be determined if Sherman’s altered mental state was due to some previous drug use, a mental break, or the use of some unknown or synthetic substance,” Skandalakis stated in the press release.
Because there are so many synthetic cannabinoids and very little knowledge of how the different compounds act in the body, it’s not unusual to not find them in a blood test, according to Dr. Jeffrey Moran, a toxicologist and director of environmental chemistry at the Arkansas Department of Health. The drugs have been known to cause psychotic effects in users.
“We don’t know what the person smoked until we test. And if we don’t have the right test for it, you’ll never find it,” Moran said in June.