Report says asphyxiation by deputies killed man outside Oz Fitness



Posted on October 25, 2013 at 7:19 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 25 at 7:51 PM

SPOKANE, Wash.-- The Spokane County Medical Examiner said a man who died in the custody of Sheriff's deputies outside Oz Fitness died of oxygen deprivation to the brain.
The office ruled the death of 34-year-old Will Berger a homicide.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s clarified the matter on Friday about the man’s cause of death. Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said his deputies put Berger in the a lateral neck restraint and not a choke hold. Knezovich stated that a lateral neck restraint cuts off the oxygen. He said a choke hold would have crushed Berger’s trachea. 

"Everybody wants to focus on one thing and I have not read in any of the materials that it was one solely this particular hold cause his death," said Knezovich. 

The report also shows Berger died as a result of oxygen deprivation and cardiac arrest. The death certificate shows he had heart problems.

READ: Investigators name deputies involved in deadly Oz Fitness tasing
Two deputies shocked Berger with a taser and wrestled him to the ground in a choke hold after he became agitated at the gym and ran into traffic back in June. He remained in a manic and physically agitated state during the confrontation with deputies.

"We know through training and medical examinations and science that you can literally cause death by fighting too long," said Knezovich.
Witnesses said Berger became belligerent at Oz Fitness on Spokane’s South Hill. He was allegedly lifting weights when he dropped one.  He yelled at the weight, started punching equipment, and punched a hole in the wall, according to Oz Fitness members. Witnesses said Berger even threw a towel dispenser and cursed at other customers.

WATCH: Family friend: Father witnessed son being tased after incident at Oz Fitness

Witnesses also reported Berger was acting completely erratic and aggressive before he was tased. They watched as Berger even pulled the taser prongs out of his chest and then ran from the deputy.

Berger had a similar outburst at a Jiu-jitsu business three days before he died.

READ: Man tased near Oz Fitness served as a Whitman Co. reserve deputy

The case remains under investigation by the Washington State Patrol.