Death of man who scuffled with deputies ruled accidental; lawsuit pending

Pierce County prosecutors won’t file any charges in connection with the May 11 death of a man who struggled with Pierce County sheriff’s deputies after a neighbor called 911 to say he was acting strangely.

The findings of three separate and concurrent investigations conclude that Ronald Hillstrom’s death was accidental, though his family is suing the county for $10 million. The Medical Examiner’s Office had already determined that Hillstrom, 44, died of complications from cardiac dysrhythmia. The prosecutor’s office and the sheriff’s office conducted their own inquiries. The Friday announcement from the prosecutor’s office marks the formal conclusion of a standard process associated with deaths involving law enforcement personnel.

Hillstrom was beaten, Tasered and hog-tied by sheriff’s deputies who responded to an emergency call in the 4400 block of 76th Avenue West. Residents reported that Hillstrom was walking in circles and yelling for help. A sheriff’s spokesman said at the time that Hillstrom was agitated, armed with a screwdriver, refused to obey orders and fought with deputies as they tried to subdue him. Hillstrom’s family contends that deputies reacted with excessive force too quickly, and compounded the force when Hillstrom reacted instinctively.

At some point, as many as four deputies physically engaged Hillstrom. He suffered broken ribs, a broken nose, lacerations on his head and a “collapsed chest,” according to the lawsuit filed by his family. He later died at Tacoma General Hospital.