DA: No officers charged in Hewett jail death
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — After a full review of security video and a SBI investigation, New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David has decided not to charge any officers in the jailhouse death of former Brunswick County Sheriff Ron Hewett.
In a news conference this morning, David and New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon released information about Hewett’s death, including video of the moments leading up to his death.
“The only person who committed any crime, was Ronald Hewett,” David said of the incident inside the jail July 12.
Investigators say Hewett began refusing meals on July 11 before refusing to see the jail’s mental health staff July 12. The incident that preceded his death began as Hewett was heading to a visit with his mother and girlfriend.
“I want the community to know, like I know, how professional and well-trained your sheriff’s office is,” McMahon said.
After falling under public scrutiny over Hewett’s death, McMahon decided to release the security video from the incident
“It’s important that we maintain the trust and the confidence and transparency,” McMahon said.
Security video shows Hewett entering the jail’s dayroom July 12 wearing nothing but his boxers.
“The deputies attempt by intercom to have him go back in and go do his visit,” McMahon said while showing reporters the video.
Hewett Refused. A deputy approached. That’s when Hewett became combative and the deputy tased him, but Hewett immediately pulled out the prongs and went after the deputy again.
When backup arrived, Hewett attacked again. After tasing Hewett a second time, guards were able to control him, but the former lawman continued being uncooperative.
“You know it takes real talent to kill a man with a Taser,” Hewett told the guards. “Y’all don’t have the ba**s to step up to a man.”
Moments later Hewett spoke out to a larger audience, his fellow inmates, as he pushed back against the officers.
“I didn’t go down like a coward, boys,” Hewett said. “Y’all got a fight.”
Jail staff placed Hewett in his cell on suicide watch, which meant checking on him every five minutes. During the second check, which happened two minutes after the first check, a deputy noticed he was not moving. A supervisor decided several deputies would enter the cell for a welfare check in case Hewett was “playing possum.” That visit happened three minutes after the second check, and officers noted Hewett looked blue. A nurse entered less than a minute later responding to a call for medical attention. She and deputies began CPR as EMS was called and arrived in about 15 minutes. Life-saving efforts performed for about 30 minutes, including the use of a defibrillator, failed.
Official results from Hewett’s autopsy won’t be available for weeks, but the medical examiner has ruled Hewett died of a heart condition made worse by chronic alcohol use and the stress of what happened and not the actual tasing.
“Sudden cardiac death due to Taser deployment would be immediate and not delayed by a number of minutes as happened in this case,” David read from a letter from the doctor who performed the autopsy.
David said there were two things to consider in this case: Use of force and care of a person while they’re in custody.
“The deputy that deployed the Taser and those who provided immediate backup acted consistent with well-established precedent to protect themselves and others,” David said.
The DA said he spoke to Hewett’s family and showed them the video earlier this week. He said they completely understand his decision.
Hewett was in federal custody in the jail awaiting a detention hearing after ATF agents arrested him after finding guns in his home. Hewett was not allowed to have a gun as a felon.
The US Marshal Service says they will continue to house inmates in the New Hanover County Jail.
NOTE: The small pool of blood on the floor next to Hewett in the photo above is from his hand where one of the Taser prongs hit, investigators say.