Crime

Autopsy shows what led to death of homeless man who was in Bellingham police custody

Video shows Bellingham officers struggling with homeless man who later died

Bellingham police provided this security and body camera footage of officers' response to a call at the Drop-In Center, an emergency homeless shelter. Robert R. Gagnon, 49, died while in custody.
Up Next
Bellingham police provided this security and body camera footage of officers' response to a call at the Drop-In Center, an emergency homeless shelter. Robert R. Gagnon, 49, died while in custody.

Cardiac complications caused by acute methamphetamine use led to the death of a 49-year-old homeless man, according to the Whatcom County medical examiner.

Robert R. Gagnon died early Thursday morning while in police custody.

Bellingham police responded to the call, which was made around 11:37 p.m. Wednesday at the Drop-In Center, an emergency homeless shelter at 1013 W. Holly St. in Bellingham.

The autopsy was performed Saturday.

"The matter is considered accidental," Dr. Gary Goldfogel said Monday of Gagnon's death.

"I see no concern after reviewing the videotapes about his interaction with law enforcement having contributed other than in terms of anxiety related to the interaction," Goldfogel added. "Specifically, there was no excessive force, weight bearing on his body or other sustained injury."

Police had no history of contact with Gagnon before last week and an investigation indicated he spent most of his life in Minnesota with stops in Colorado and Seattle, Bellingham police have said in a news release.

Gagnon was exhibiting signs of mental and medical crises and appeared to be suffering from delusions and paranoia, according to the release.

Drop-In Center staff asked for police to do a welfare check and remove the man from the center, according to emergency radio dispatches.

Initial information indicated there was a man who was possibly under the influence of drugs and whose behavior was unstable, according to Bellingham police.

Officers used de-escalation and verbal skills to get Gagnon into protective custody so that he could be taken to St. Joseph hospital for a medical and mental health evaluation, according to the release.

He was placed into handcuffs for his safety and the safety of the officers, according to police.

Gagnon began to “doubt the legitimacy of the officers and begins to struggle to get away from them, at one point attempting to run into the street,” according the release.

Gagnon was then placed on his side and aid was called, the release said.

He was outside the center and officers were holding Gagnon on the ground when he became unresponsive.

Police and on-scene medics tended to him and he was taken to the hospital where he died shortly after midnight Thursday, police said.

Surveillance and body camera footage show Gagnon in the Drop-In Center and the officers initial contact with him.

The footage also shows three officers struggling with Gagnon outside the center, before he becomes unresponsive.

During the footage, Gagnon asks whether they are “real police” before they take him outside the center.

After they began leading him to a patrol car, Gagnon yells for help and says they’re not real police.

The officers can be heard asking him to relax and saying they need to help him.

Once on the ground, Gagnon tells officers he can’t breathe and tells them to turn him to his other side.

The officers are heard reassuring Gagnon, but he continues to yell for help and at one point asks, “Why am I dying?,” according to the footage.

After medical personnel arrive, it’s realized Gagnon is unconscious, according to the footage.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

  Comments