Clark County sued for withholding video of jail deputies killing Mychael Lynch

Mychael Lynch

Mychael Lynch

Video part of review that cleared jail staff in the fatal 2015 struggle

Eds. Note: Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik failed to publicly distribute his investigation of the death of Mycheal Lynch, to name the deputies who killed Lynch, or to bring the deputies to a grand jury or public inquest. We’ve asked for Golik’s investigation as a public record request and will post again about this case.

Columbian, April 6, 2016

The family of a man who died after a scuffle with guards at the Clark County Jail filed suit against the county Wednesday, saying the county violated the state’s public records laws in refusing to share video footage showing the struggle.

Mycheal J. Lynch died following a struggle with deputies in March last year, and Lynch’s family claims in the lawsuit that the county has withheld video Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik examined before making his determination that jail staff had acted lawfully.

READ – Estate of Mychael Lynch v. Clark County (PDF), complaint for disclosure of public records
READ – Clark County Jail inmate dies after ‘medical emergency’ in custody, Oregonian 3 23 2015
READ – Corrections deputies cleared in jail homicide; Investigation finds they acted lawfully in March incident involving inmate Mycheal Lynch, who later died, Columbian 9 21 2015

Lynch, 32, was booked March 20, 2015, following his arrest on suspicion of intoxicated driving, reckless driving and hit-and-run against an unattended vehicle. The prosecutor’s office said Lynch had a large rash on his chest when he was admitted, and he was placed in the jail’s medical unit.

At one point, Lynch called for help, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and corrections staff came to his cell. When they tried moving him to another part of the jail, he resisted, and during the struggle he experienced a medical emergency, the sheriff’s office said. Lynch was taken to a hospital, and he died two days later.

In November, Lynch’s family filed a tort claim against the county arguing the jail was negligent in his death, and claimed damages of at least $4 million.

In that claim, Lynch’s family said up to nine guards were piled on top of Lynch’s body until he became unresponsive, all while he said he couldn’t breathe. That claim goes on to say jail staff strapped Lynch into a restraint chair rather than provide appropriate medical attention.

In April 2015, the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office called Lynch’s death a homicide, meaning it resulted from another person’s deliberate action, but the ruling does not make any judgements about criminal culpability. The agency determined Lynch died of brain damage due to lack of oxygen. An autopsy found that an irregular heartbeat experienced during the struggle, coupled with methamphetamine intoxication, as the cause of death.

The Vancouver Police Department investigated the death, and Golik, in his review of the incident, said in written findings released in August that the corrections staff had acted lawfully.

In that review, notes the family in its public records claim, Golik makes mention of videos that he said doesn’t show deputies over-aggressively piling on or “hitting or choking” Lynch. Instead, they show them using the force necessary to hold him down, Golik wrote.

In late August, attorneys for the family, Jack Green and Gregory Ferguson, filed a records request for the video, specifically DVDs with jail security footage. The county never fulfilled the request, citing an exemption in the state’s public records law that limits access to information that “would have a substantial likelihood of threatening the security of a city, county, or state adult or juvenile correctional facility.”

So on Wednesday, the family filed a lawsuit, arguing that once records are incorporated into an investigation they are subject to disclosure despite previous exemptions.

“The DVDs sought by the petitioner in this public records case are of paramount public concern and necessary for the public interest because they pertain to an investigation into the misconduct of officials of a public agency,” the suit states.”The Lynch family and the citizens of Clark County have a right to know why a man booked into jail for a misdemeanor traffic offense and in need of medical care becomes a victim of ‘homicide’ less than six hours later.”

The family seeks a court order that the county make the records available and pay attorney fees, along with state penalties for public record violations.

“The family and the public in general have a right to know what happened to Mycheal Lynch that day. If the video does, in fact, clear the deputies of all wrongdoing, it follows that the county would want to release it,” Green said.