Report offers more details in death of woman in sheriff's office custody

Platte County Sheriff’s Office deputies were serving an ex parte order of protection against a 50-year-old Platte City area woman Thursday, June 9 when she allegedly became combative. Emma Lewis died in custody minutes later after a short ride in a transport van.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the incident at the request of Platte County sheriff Mark Owen, but an incident report from the Platte County Sheriff’s Office provides details on the events that led up to Lewis’ death.

An initial press release indicated that Lewis arrived at the sheriff’s office that day in “medical distress.” According to documents The Citizen obtained, she was found “laying face down in the middle of the floor of the jail van” in the back “with a seatbelt around her neck.” However, the report also indicates she remained handcuffed with her hands behind her back.

According to the report, Lewis was not breathing and had no pulse and was found with vomit on herself.

Deputies called for an ambulance, removed Lewis from the van and started chest compressions. According to the report, she had “a lot of stomach contents coming from her mouth and nose,” which required deputies to turn her in an attempt to drain and remove the contents and prevented mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Paramedics arrived and declared Lewis dead at the scene.

There were no deputies nor other arrestees in the back of the van at the time of the incident. There are cameras inside the vehicle, but that footage can not be made available until the Clay County Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation.

Although Lewis indicated a previous history of suicide attempts to deputies prior to her arrest that day, one deputy drove the van while the other two deputies followed behind in their patrol vehicle. Deputies can ride in the back of the van with the person being arrested if necessary.

“There’s not a specific protocol regarding that,” said Capt. Erik Holland of the Platte County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s based on what the officers are seeing at the time for safety implications for both the party and the officers.”

The incident started at about 2 p.m., when two deputies arrived at Lewis’ residence on Highway 92 just outside of Platte City to serve the order of protection filed by her daughter earlier in the week and granted in Platte County Circuit Court that day. The request for the order cites Lewis’ perceived erratic behavior since asking her husband for a divorce that included occasionally aggressive actions toward her daughter and husband.

According to the order request, the daughter lived at the house with Lewis, while her husband had moved out.

The narrative on the order of protection request said, “She acted this same way when I was a child and she was strung out on drugs.” The most recent threat of domestic abuse came four days before Lewis’ arrest when the petitioner wrote that she was “prepared for it to become physical. Her stance was as if she were going to cause physical harm.”

When deputies arrived to serve the order of protection, Lewis didn’t answer the door but suddenly emerged to place some items in her orange Jeep in the driveway, according to the incident report.

Deputies noted Lewis became “argumentative” and told them she was in the process of moving out. They then offered her time to collect personal items before leaving the premises, but when told they wanted to go inside the residence, Lewis allegedly resisted.

A deputy then grabbed the woman’s arm and told her she was under arrest for violating the order of protection.

Lewis allegedly resisted, and a second deputy assisted in putting her in handcuffs. The report then states that she attempted to pull and “lifted her legs in the air as dead weight.” When sat on the ground, she allegedly rolled over face down and began to bang her head on the grass then inadvertently kicked one of the deputies.

At that point, the deputies asked for the jail transport van.

According to the report, Lewis told deputies she could not breathe, and they helped roll her over on her back only for her to turn back face down and bang her head on the ground. At this point, she apparently told the two deputies she had attempted suicide four times in the past and “would get it right this time.”

Another deputy arrived and placed an emergency blanket behind her head to cushion her while she continued to bang it on the ground. She continued to make suicide threats and allegedly attempted to throw herself in front of the rear wheels of the jail van as it arrived on scene.

The report states two deputies helped pull her back out of danger.

Deputies escorted her into the van, and one fastened her seatbelt with two others helping to physically restrain her. As the door closed, Lewis started to bang her head on the wall of the van while kicking the door, according to the report.

After notifying Holland of the use of force, deputies began the short trip — about five minutes — to the sheriff’s office with Lewis found unresponsive at the end and pronounced dead a short time later. 

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office remains in contact with Platte County regarding the investigation, but there is no timetable for the completion. No official cause of death has been made available.