Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal and District Attorney General Tony Clark announced Friday that autopsy results showed Stewart Peppers, an inmate who died in the custody of the county’s Detention Center in April, died from “excited delirium” resulting from drug use.
Peppers, 22, of Johnson City, went unconscious after an altercation with officers inside his cell April 29 and died at an area hospital. He was one of five inmates who died in the jail’s custody in 2013.
Graybeal and Clark said the report indicated Peppers’ death resulted from a condition associated with misuse of two anabolic steroids — nandrolene decanoate (aka Deca-Durabolin) and exogenous testosterone — and acute cannabinoid (marijuana) use.
Graybeal and Clark said they wanted to release the information quickly because of there have been many questions and a lot of speculation surrounding Peppers’ death.
Peppers was arrested April 26 after Johnson City police responded to a series of incidents along the Milligan Highway involving a gun, attempted carjacking, drugs, a broken window and a foot chase, warrants filed in Washington County Sessions Court said.
He was housed alone in the jail when he became incensed and began shouting obscenities at detention officers, a federal lawsuit filed by his parents said.
The suit claims jailers beat their son to death. Statements from those officers said Peppers became agitated inside his cell and began hitting his head against the wall, so they went inside to subdue him to prevent him from injuring himself.
That confrontation led to officers using a Taser, pepper spray and hands-on force to control Peppers. Instead of calming down, Peppers stopped resisting “suddenly” and officers realized he was not breathing and had no pulse. “CPR was started and EMS was called immediately,” an answer to the lawsuit said.
Graybeal said Friday he fully supports the officers involved in the incident.
“They were confronted with a violent assault and, despite the tragic outcome, responded in an appropriate manner,” he said.
Graybeal said the autopsy report states “excited delirium syndrome is a condition that manifests as a combination of psychomotor agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, speech disturbances, disorientation, violent and bizarre behavior, insensitivity to pain, elevated body temperature and increased strength.”
Clark said “everybody’s hearts and prayers go out to this family. Anytime someone dies, no matter what the circumstances, it’s sad and tragic and, unfortunately, it happened here at the jail.”
He said it’s the first autopsy report he’s seen that indicated someone died from excited delirium. The manner of death, he said, was accidental.
Clark also commented on the deaths of the five inmates during 2013, which he said were not connected in any way.
“Each of these deaths has been thoroughly investigated,” Clark said in the release. “The investigations have shown that there is no connection among the deaths and there is no wrongdoing on the part of anyone at the Detention Center.”
The National Institutes of Health website said “bodybuilders and athletes often use anabolic steroids to build muscles and improve athletic performance. Using them this way is not legal or safe. Abuse of anabolic steroids has been linked with many health problems.”
Peppers’ death is still under investigation. All the information will be put together with the autopsy for Clark to make any further findings or recommendations.