MARTINEZ -- A Contra Costa County inquest jury opined Friday that an Oakland man's death at County Jail in Martinez was accidental, but the man's family thinks it was the result of excessive force and is planning to sue.
Donald Ray McCullough, 58, was pronounced dead Oct. 30, less than three hours after he struggled with County Jail deputies and was shocked in the back with a Taser.
Forensic pathologist Arnold Josselson testified Friday that McCullough died of "excessive delirium syndrome associated with acute methamphetamine intoxication."
Such deaths, the doctor said, usually follow a pattern identical to what preceded McCullough's demise: drug intoxication, aggressive behavior, a struggle, being Tased and being restrained.
Ben Nisenbaum, an attorney for McCullough's family, said he doesn't buy it. He filed a wrongful death claim with Contra Costa County last month and plans to sue in federal court.
"This diagnosis makes no sense," Nisenbaum said. "It doesn't add up to excited delirium. If so, he would have been hallucinating and pouring with sweat."
McCullough and an associate were arrested by Pinole police early Oct. 30 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit burglary and possession of a stolen firearm. McCullough complained that his bones hurt but refused medical treatment and was generally cooperative.
A jail deputy said McCullough became argumentative in the intake area when he was asked to consent to giving a DNA sample. Once brought into a cell to cool off, McCullough refused commands to get on the ground and began thrashing about, deputies said.
As four deputies struggled with the 5-foot-7-inch, 144-pound inmate, Deputy Mitch Moschetti said, he deployed a five-second Taser cycle on McCullough. The Taser then malfunctioned, Moschetti said, so he punched the inmate once in the ribs.
The deputies reported that they took¿ McCullough to a padded cell and put him in ankle shackles. They checked on him multiple times an hour before finding him unresponsive.
"We believe their excessive force caused the death of my father," said McCullough's son, Devon Matthews, a 39-year-old Patterson resident. "We still have a lot of questions and think we are just beginning to get to the truth of what happened."
The testimony surrounding McCullough's death was given Friday at a Contra Costa County Sheriff-Coroner's Office inquest. Such inquests are held as a matter of protocol for all in-custody and officer-related deaths. Inquest jurors determine the mode or manner of death but do not assign civil or criminal liability.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.