Freeland man dies in padded jail cell

A Freeland man died in a padded cell at the Island County Jail three days after he was arrested for running over a deputy’s foot and driving drunk, the Sheriff’s Office reported.

Corrections staff discovered Stephen Peters, 57, collapsed on the floor of the behavior modification room at about 11:30 a.m. Monday. He was not breathing and didn’t have a pulse. Corrections and nursing staff immediately responded and summoned emergency medical personnel, but they felt it was clear that lifesaving measures would not revive Peters.

The cause of death is unknown. An autopsy is scheduled for today.

Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said corrections staff placed Peters in the isolation room, commonly called the “blue room,” because he was being combative and verbally aggressive. A doctor evaluated Peters Sunday afternoon.

The room is an unfurnished, padded cell that is painted blue in order to calm inmates who are out of control. It is near both corrections and nursing staff stations, but it isn’t monitored with a video camera.

Chief De Dennis, the jail administrator, said he saw Peters Monday morning when the man refused to drink water or let a nurse take his blood pressure. But besides being uncooperative, Dennis said Peters seemed relatively calm when he was alone in the cell.

A staff member had last checked on Peters about 50 minutes before he was found dead, Dennis said. Peters was not on suicide watch and suicide is not suspected in his death. Dennis said he doesn’t know if Peters was suffering from alcohol withdrawal.

Peters was being held on suspicion of third-degree assault and DUI.

Sgt. Rick Norrie stopped Peters’ car near his home on East Harbor Road just before 11 p.m., July 7. Peters was driving erratically and speeding.

Norrie wrote in his report on the incident that Peters had an “overwhelming odor of intoxicants” on his breath and was uncooperative. Peters fled from the traffic stop in his car, telling Norrie to follow him home.

Norrie chased Peters’ Lincoln Town Car and cut him off. Norrie got out of his car, stood in front of of Peters’ car with his weapon drawn and ordered him to stop.

Peters maneuvered the car to the right and accelerated. Norrie jumped out of the way, but the car hit him in the knee and ran over his toes.

Norrie pursued Peters again and managed to stop him. Norrie rushed the suspect, tackling him to the ground and handcuffing him after a brief struggle, the report states.

At the jail, Peters refused to take a breathalyzer test.

Norrie went to Whidbey General Hospital and was treated for a contusion injury on his knee and a “crushing” injury to his left foot, his report states.

Following a telephonic hearing Saturday, Peters was held in jail on $5,000 bail.

Sheriff Hawley said deputies were familiar with Peters from previous incidents and it wasn’t the first time he had been in the jail. Norrie wrote that Peters is “a subject known to law enforcement to be dangerous.”

Dennis said he scheduled a critical incident debriefing Friday for jail staff.

“Some people were very upset,” he said. “It’s not a pleasant thing anytime you see someone pass away.”

Hawley said Peters doesn’t have relatives on the island. His sisters are flying in this week from out East.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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