Two West Milwaukee police officers who broke down a mentally ill man’s door and tased him in the shower 18 times before he died will not be criminally charged, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has decided.
More than 30 minutes elapsed between the first time the officers deployed their Tasers and the time Adam Trammell lost consciousness in the hallway of his apartment building, known to officers as a place that housed people with mental illnesses, according to police reports.
In between, Trammell suffered a black eye, a broken rib and more than two dozen cuts and bruises, according to the medical examiner's report.
On the officers’ body camera footage, Trammell can be heard screaming in agony.
He spent some of his last conscious moments vomiting profusely.
Chisholm concluded there was “no basis to conclusively link” the death of Trammell, which occurred in May, to the officers’ actions.
The officers, Michael Rohleder and Anthony Munoz, “responded to a medical emergency under complex circumstances that required them to attempt restraint,” Chisholm wrote to West Milwaukee Police Chief Dennis L. Nasci.
But Trammell, who was 22 and suffered from schizophrenia, did not exhibit any sign of needing medical attention until the officers had attempted to forcibly remove him from the shower, according to investigative reports.
When they pulled aside the shower curtain, Trammell stood still and stared blankly at them, the body camera footage shows.
"These police tortured Adam Trammell to death," said Robin Shellow, one of the attorneys representing the Trammell family. "This was not 'help.' They were not protecting or serving anyone. Naked, cold, confused, alone in his own bathroom and crying for Jesus to take him, he needlessly suffered."
Trammel's father was outraged by Chisholm's decision.
"This is a nightmare. I can’t believe this," Larry Trammell said. "I think those people should resign. The D.A. and the chief of that police department."
Nasci did not return telephone calls Thursday. Earlier, he said the officers remained on full duty while they were under investigation.
The medical examiner’s report ruled the manner of Trammell's death as undetermined, but cited the Taser use — as well as the use of sedatives by paramedics — as a contributing factor.
The officers told investigators they tased Trammell because they wanted to get him medical attention, according to records.
“Responding as a first-line community caretaker of a mentally ill person who needs medical intervention is fundamentally different from committing a crime, but in some circumstances forceful restraint is required,” Chisholm wrote.
According to the records, here’s what happened:
On the morning of May 25, a neighbor called police because Trammell, who had knocked on her door, was naked in the hallway, talking about the devil and his brother. She feared he was experiencing a psychotic break.
Trammell had not threatened anyone or brandished a weapon. When police arrived, a neighbor told them she feared he might harm himself. Trammell’s downstairs neighbor told them water was leaking through the ceiling from his apartment.
Rather than waiting for 25 minutes for someone to arrive with a key, police broke down the door and walked through the apartment to the bathroom, where they found Trammell taking a shower, drinking from a jug of water.
When the officers spoke to Trammell, he stared at them and did not reply.
Munoz reached for Trammell, who pushed him away. That’s when Munoz first deployed his Taser, causing Trammell to fall backward into the tub. After initially lying still, Trammell struggled as Munoz and Rohleder tried to handcuff him, so they tased him some more.
During the struggle, the officers dropped their Tasers. A third officer, who was outside he bathroom, handed hers to one of them.
The officers called West Allis police for help. West Allis recommended disengaging, so Munoz and Rohleder did.
Rohleder pulled the trigger of his Taser one more time from the hallway, while the leads to its wires were still embedded in Trammell’s body. Rohleder told investigators “this was not an intentional deployment, but occurred spontaneously when the West Allis police asked him if the Taser wires were still connected,” according to Chisholm's letter.
When paramedics arrived, Trammell was handcuffed and struggling on the ground outside his apartment. They gave him two sedatives, ketamine and midazolam, in an attempt to calm him down, the medical examiner’s report says.
By the time they got him into the ambulance, Trammell had stopped breathing and had no pulse. He was pronounced dead within minutes of arriving at the hospital.
The medical examiner listed the cause of Trammell’s death as excited delirium, a controversial condition often cited when police use force.
Symptoms of excited delirium include aggressive or bizarre behavior, paranoia and high body temperature. Although pathologists cite the syndrome as a cause of death and emergency room doctors have procedures to treat it, excited delirium is not recognized by the American Medical Association or the American Psychological Association.
In evaluating the officers' actions, Chisholm reviewed Wisconsin Department of Justice guidelines regarding excited delirium.
They say officers in these cases should:
- Avoid increasing the subject's agitation or excitement.
- Minimize physical struggles with the subject.
- Minimize the use of restraints.
- Get medical care for the subject as quickly as possible.
The guidelines also say a "combative subject" should be placed under control before being put into an ambulance.
"If the circumstances do not permit this procedure, use other customary practices to gain control of the subject," the guidelines say.
Chisholm concluded the officers' actions toward Trammell were not abusive.
“To support a finding of criminal culpability in these circumstances, I would have to demonstrate that the officers intentionally or negligently subjected Mr. Trammell to abuse under circumstances that were likely to cause bodily harm,” Chisholm wrote. “There is no evidence to support the officers intended to harm Mr. Trammell.”
Shellow and attorney Mark Thomsen of Gingras, Cates & Wachs plan to file a civil suit against West Milwaukee.