ER Cotton died from head injury
by Heather Muller , 9/13/2007
Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jäger announced Thursday that Martin Frederick Cotton II died from a subdural hematoma, or collection of blood on the surface of his brain, the result of blunt force trauma to his head.
Cotton, 26, died Aug. 9 after less than two hours at the Humboldt County jail following a series of fights, including one with officers from the Eureka Police Department.
An autopsy Aug. 13 revealed evidence of blunt force trauma, but stopped short of determining his cause of death.
Toxicology results received later showed potentially toxic levels of lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD — which Jäger said Thursday would be listed as a factor contributing to Cotton’s death.
Jäger said, however, the three pathologists involved in the investigation were unable to determine a manner of death.
There are six options for the manner of death, the coroner said — natural death, homicide, suicide, accident, pending investigation and could not be determined.
“There was no opinion on how he had gotten the subdural hematoma,” Jäger said. “He could have sustained that injury when he had the altercation before police arrived, or it could have been from the altercation with police or even self-inflicted in the jail.”
A surveillance video from inside the jail reportedly shows movements by Cotton inside his cell that suggest he might have repeatedly banged his head against a wall.
The video has not been made public, but Jäger said the pathologists watched it and were unable to draw any firm conclusions from it.
Regardless, Jäger said, “This would have fallen into homicide or accident” because suicide requires intent, and there was “no indication whatsoever” that Cotton intended to kill himself.
“I could make a case for homicide, and I could make a case for accident, but I couldn’t make a very strong case for either,” he said. “We really don’t know for sure. That’s going to have to be determined by somebody else.”
The pathologists’ findings, Jäger noted, were not unanimous.
Shasta County Medical Examiner Dr. Susan Comfort and Chief Forensic Pathologist Dr. Mark Super from the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office concurred that the subdural hematoma was causal, and the high LSD level was contributory.
But Jäger said local private pathologist Dr. Kenneth Falconer insisted that the report also include a controversial additional contributing factor called excited delirium syndrome, a condition in which normal physiological changes produced by violent activity can culminate in cardiac death.
Jäger disagreed with that part of Falconer’s report, saying that the absence of cardiac failure and the presence of blunt force trauma were inconsistent with a finding of EDS.
Jäger said he submitted his findings to the Critical Incident Response Team, which would then forward its report to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office.
EPD Chief Garr Nielsen said he had hoped for a more definitive answer, “but I don’t believe in this case definitive information exists. It’s not very satisfying to anyone, but it’s what we’re all stuck with.”
Nielsen called Cotton’s death a “tragic situation,” adding that “the only good that can come out of it is that in the future we might do things better.
“I continue to believe our officers acted appropriately and officers in the jail acted appropriately, although I know that’s little solace to Mr. Cotton’s family.”
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