No charges for deputies in deadly struggle outside Oz Fitness



Posted on July 3, 2014 at 2:34 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 3 at 5:20 PM

SPOKANE, Wash.—The deputies involved in the 2013 death of William Berger will likely not face charges. On Thursday, the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office announced that they will not be recommend criminal charges for the two deputies who subdued and tased Berger, 34, outside of the Oz Fitness in South Spokane.

Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Shawn Audie and Steve Paynter suffered cuts and bruise from their struggle with Berger in June of 2013. Berger later died from his injuries. The Spokane County Medical Examiner said Berger died as a result of oxygen deprivation and cardiac arrest. The death certificate showed he also had heart problems.

WATCH: Asphyxiation by deputies killed man outside Oz Fitness

Berger was approached by Deputy Audie and Paynter on June 6, 2013 following calls about his behavior at Oz Fitness near 55th and Regal.

Witnesses said Berger went berserk inside the gym. He was reportedly lifting weights when he dropped one.  He yelled at the weight, started punching equipment, and punched a hole in the wall, according to witnesses at Oz Fitness. They said the man threw a towel dispenser and cursed at other customers.

Deputies arrived to find Berger standing in the middle of the street. Investigators said Berger began striking the deputy’s vehicle and took a fighting stance, according to authorities.  Investigators stated that is when Paynter deployed his taser, causing Berger to fall to the ground.  Berger then stood up, removed the taser probes and wire.  Berger then ran a short distance.

WATCH: Family of man tased near Oz Fitness files $100 million claim

Both deputies tried to subdue Berger who was eventually tased tow more times and fell to the ground according to the investigation and witness accounts. When Berger began to fight back, he was placed in a lateral vascular restraint (LVR) but Berger pulled the deputy’s arm away as they fought according to authorities. The investigation report said that during the fight Berger got control of one of the tasers and attempted to use it against one of the deputies.  As the struggle continued, the deputy was able to regain control of Berger applying the LVR.  Berger stopped resisting, at which time deputies noticed that he had stopped breathing. 

EMS personnel were already on scene.

During an interview with investigators, one of those paramedics said they saw Berger hit the ground and go unresponsive. She said they went in to help and saw Berger's face was blue and that he was not breathing. She added that she was ordered to “get the ****away” before she could do anything. The deputy yelled in her partner’s face according to the paramedic. She told investigators that a deputy said, “if they didn't leave, they were going to be arrested.”

WATCH: Report reveals exchange during deputy-involved death

Deputies called the paramedics back seconds later to perform CRP, but it was too late according to the interview.

Berger was pronounced dead the next morning.

Berger’s parents said he battled a mental illness and something that day had triggered an intense mental episode. Bill Berger said he tried to get his son some care prior to the Oz Fitness incident. Berger had a similar outburst at ji jitsu business three days before he died.

In June of 2014, the Berger family filed a claim for damages against the Spokane County Sheriff's Office for $100 million.