The death of an Olympia woman after emergency crews tried to sedate her has set off protests as investigators try to determine what happened.
Olympia firefighters responded to a fire alarm at an apartment complex at 1209 Fern St. SW shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday. Police say the woman pulled the fire alarm and was apparently having a mental health crisis or on drugs.
Officers tried to detain her for a mental health evaluation but she began kicking and lunging at them. That’s when paramedics gave her a medication to try to calm her down.
Soon after that, she stopped breathing. She was taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
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The Thurston County Coroner’s Office has identified the woman as Vaneesa L. Hopson, 35. Her cause of death is under investigation.
Monica Richardson lives in the apartment complex where it happened. She went outside when the fire alarm went off and saw the woman shouting and obviously in distress.
Richardson said at first neighbors approached the woman, followed by emergency responders.
“The closer they got to her, the worse she got,” she said. “She was screaming ‘Police, police, call for help.’ They’d say ‘Ma’am, we are the police.’ ”
She said the whole thing lasted about an hour.
On Wednesday night, about 50 protesters took to downtown Olympia streets in response to Hopson’s death. One person was arrested after police say he threw paint at the police station.
There were also reports of rocks being thrown at passing cars and protesters blocking traffic.
Video shared on social media shows a pickup truck driving at protesters on Fourth Avenue at Capitol Way. Boudicca Walsh, who took the video, said at least two people were injured. Walsh said shortly after that, another driver confronted protesters from his car and pointed a gun at them.
Olympia Police Lt. Sam Costello said police are investing the incident with the truck.
‘It’s really a medical decision’
Costello said the use of medication to sedate people in that type of situation is uncommon. In 20 years with the department, he has seen it used maybe three times.
He said the decision to sedate Hopson on Wednesday did not come from police.
“Paramedics are solely responsible for making the decision,” Costello said. “It’s really not a law enforcement decision at all. It’s really a medical decision.”
Paramedics with Olympia Fire Department follow protocols set by Thurston County Medic One. Medic One’s director of emergency services, Kurt Hardin, declined to comment on what happened to Hopson.
He referred to Medic One’s protocols that say “chemical restraint” may be used on “patients who are so violent and combative that they cannot reasonably be placed in medical restraint without causing physical injury to the patient or EMS providers.”
An investigation led by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office into Hopson’s death will look at photos, video and witness statements on what happened, along with Hopson’s toxicology report. That is expected to be completed by the end of the month.