Family claims University Place man died from police brutality

Keith Eldridge | KOMO News

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — The family of a University Place man who died shortly after being tased and arrested wants the officers to pay.

But the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t believe the officers caused the death. Both sides point to cellphone video taken of the arrest to show their points.

As soon as neighbors realized something was up they turned on their cell phone cameras. They captured the tasing and takedown of 44-year-old Ron Hillstrom Sunday night. They say he’d been acting erratically in the parking lot of his University Place apartment.

Police were called because Hillstrom was waving around what they thought was a knife, but turned out to be a large screwdriver.

“I see four officers walking up on him and they’re like, ‘It’s the police,’ and he’s like ‘You’re not the police’, and he goes to run in the circle and as soon as he comes back the police use four tasers at one time,” Ashley Patterson said.

The sheriff’s office said officers only deployed tasers twice, and the second time was only necessary because the first missed.

Neighbors say the video shows deputies making the arrest using a flashlight as a baton. Even though police say Hillstrom was conscious and screaming as he was taken to the hospital, he died an hour and 15 minutes later.

The Hillstrom family blames the deputies.

“it appears that this is a guy who was reaching out for help, literally requesting help and instead of getting help was given a death sentence,” said family attorney Nathan Roberts.

But the sheriff’s office says Hillstrom was not brutally attacked.

“No, he wasn’t beaten,” said Det. Ed Troyer. “He was hit with a flashlight a few times in an area where we believe the screwdriver was, but nothing that would cause any type of injury that would lead up to his death.”

One of Hillstrom’s neighbors says he also saw what happened and does not believe the police went overboard.

“(Hillstrom) kept saying the same thing, ‘Help me,’ and he would not listen to anything they were saying. I don’t think it was brutality,” the neighbor said.

Plus, the authorities point out that Hillstrom has 26 arrests.

“(He was) well versed in the criminal justice system, including lots of assaults and drug usage,” Troyer said.

Hillstorm’s family say his history doesn’t matte .

“Regardless of what his criminal history is nobody deserves to be beaten to death,” Roberts said.

At this point no one knows why Hillstrom died. The medical examiner says that may take weeks. The deputies are on paid administrative leave for the time being which is routine.

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