Pierce County Agrees to Pay $750,000 in Wrongful Death of University Place Man

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A settlement has been reached following the wrongful death of Ronald Hillstrom, a man who died on his way to the hospital after an altercation with Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputies on May 11, 2014.

Police were responding to a disturbance call and found Mr. Hillstrom, who has a history of mental illness, holding a screwdriver and running in circles in the parking lot of his apartment complex. Four officers arrived, and when Mr. Hillstrom failed to respond to their commands he was tased. A struggle ensued, and over the next several minutes officers attempted to subdue and handcuff him. At one point Mr. Hillstrom lost consciousness, but when he awoke he resumed struggling and yelling incoherently. Paramedics arrived to transport Mr. Hillstrom to a local hospital for treatment of a laceration to his head, but he suffered a cardiac arrest while being transported and could not be revived.

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Hillstrom family alleged that Mr. Hillstrom’s death was caused by inadequate training and excessive force by the Pierce County officers. A subsequent autopsy revealed multiple blunt force injuries, a broken nose, and thirteen rib fractures due to trauma.

The Hillstrom family and Pierce County came together in late-January to discuss resolution of the lawsuit. As part of the settlement negotiations, Pierce County confirmed that it has partnered with MultiCare Mental Health to provide additional training for its Sheriff’s deputies in the wake of Mr. Hillstrom’s death. The Hillstrom family was represented by attorneys Nathan Roberts and Julie Kays of Connelly Law Offices and Jason Whalen of Ledger Square Law. The County was represented by attorneys Michelle Luna-Green and Sean Davis of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office.

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