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UPDATE | Medical expert testifies: Ostling died minutes after being shot
Douglas Ostling likely bled to death within 10 minutes of being shot by police, a trauma surgeon brought in as an expert witness in the Ostling family’s civil rights lawsuit told jurors Tuesday.
The timeline of Ostling’s death is a crucial component in the trial. William and Joyce Ostling are suing the city of Bainbridge Island, Police Chief Jon Felhman, and Police Officer Jeff Benkert, the officer who shot Douglas Ostling, and the Ostlings allege that police were improperly trained and used excessive force when they answered a 911 call at the family home in October 2010 and waited too long to provide medical aid to their son after he had been shot.
Attorneys for the city have said that Ostling, a mentally ill 43-year-old who lived in an apartment above the garage in the family home, had been drinking the night of the shooting and came at officers with an ax after they went to his apartment door to check on him after he called 911.
Lawyers representing the Ostlings have said police waited too long — roughly an hour and 15 minutes — before having an officer scale a ladder and climb onto the roof of the Ostlings’ home on Spring Ridge Road and look in through a skylight to check on Ostling after he had been shot. About five minutes later, at 10:19 p.m. and approximately an hour and 20 minutes after shots were fired, a paramedic went into the room where Ostling lay and found him dead.
The trial entered its second week on Monday, with testimony from Van Blaricom, a former police chief in Bellevue.
Blaricom told jurors that Bainbridge police were inadequately trained and failed to follow the department’s General Orders Manual for contacts with the mentally ill and calling for medical assistance after the use of deadly force.
He likened the police manual to using a cookbook.
“If you don’t follow the recipe, you’re probably not going to like the end result,” Blaricom said.
Officers should have taken their time and gotten more information from the Ostling family before contacting Doug Ostling, Blaricom also said, and should have offered assistance after Ostling was shot.
Police should have used the key to unlock Ostling’s apartment door after the shooting, he said, to get inside.
“After you put him down, you have to help him,” Blaricom said.
But attorneys for the city of Bainbridge Island also pointed to the clock as testimony continued in the case.
Richard Jolley, an attorney defending the city against the lawsuit, noted that Ostling was holding a double-bladed ax when he opened his apartment door.
He asked Blaricom if he thought Ostling could have delivered a deadly blow as he faced the two officers.
“No question about it,” Blaricom said.
Jolley also asked if he thought Ostling was threatening officers when he didn’t drop the ax, despite repeated warnings from police. Officers at the scene said they warned Ostling at least 10 times to drop the ax while they pointed their handguns at him.
Blaricom said he agreed that Ostling was using the ax in a threatening manner, and said Ostling could have very quickly hit one of the officers with the weapon.
“They could probably do that in less than a second,” Blaricom said.
According to the 911 dispatch log on the night of the incident, Ostling was shot four minutes and 50 seconds after police arrived to investigate the 911 call from the Ostling home.
Officer Benkert and Officer David Portrey met William Ostling at the front door of the home, and Ostling led officers through the home to his son’s apartment.
Ostling shouted at the officers to leave through the closed apartment door, but after his father retrieved a set of keys to open the door, Ostling appeared with a double-bladed ax and Portrey tried to use a taser on him without success.
As Ostling came forward with the ax, the officers said, Portrey backed up on the narrow stairwell and fell on his back.
Ostling continued to come forward, and Benkert fired three shots; two of them struck Ostling in the leg.
The apartment door, with two pink rods poking through the bullet holes to show the path of the rounds, was brought in to the courtroom so a ballistic expert could show how the door was closing at the time the shots were fired.
Matthew Noedel, a forensic scientist hired by the Ostling family, said the rounds created channels when they went through the door, which helped Noedel estimate the trajectories of the bullets that were fired.
His conclusions came with caveats.
Noedel recounted how he bought a similar solid-core door and took it to the firing range for tests. He laid it out level, and put a white bag with ballistic gelatin - a thick goo used for comparing the impact from a bullet hitting human body tissue - and fired bullets at the door from a Glock Model 22, the kind of handgun used by Benkert, mounted on a nearby plywood stand.
Results were inconclusive, he said.
Evidence is unclear
Rounds like the one in the officer’s .40-caliber handgun — hollow points — flatten into a familiar mushroom shape before they start tumbling through what they hit.
Noedel said he fired multiple rounds at his experimental door, but was never able to figure out exactly where two of the three shots went after they were fired by the officer.
One shot, for sure, missed Ostling.
It went through a lamp shade, then ricocheted before taking a divot out of the ceiling before going out the wall of the Ostling home into parts unknown.
Where the other two rounds hit the door after they left Benkert’s handgun was also not clear.
“I was unable to assign a specific bullet to a specific hole in the door,” Noedel said.
Still, he said that the first shot likely missed Ostling and the door, and was probably the bullet that went through the apartment wall.
The door was closing, Noedel said, when the fatal shot was fired.
Benkert radioed in “Shots fired” at 8:59 p.m.
Two minutes later, he called for medical aid and said Ostling had barricaded himself in his room. Benkert said he didn’t know if Ostling had been hit.
An aid unit arrived on Spring Ridge Road about eight minutes after the shooting, but officers didn’t enter the room until a SWAT team was called in.
Izenberg, the trauma surgeon who testified Tuesday, said Ostling’s autopsy showed one of the bullets perforated a femoral artery in Ostling’s leg.
Given the severity of the wound, the bleeding had to have been brought under control within two to three minutes, Izenberg said.
Ostling would have been unconscious within five or six minutes after being shot. He would have bled out within 10 minutes.
“I am absolutely convinced of that,” Izenberg said.
A paramedic would have needed to have been by Ostling’s side within five minutes with the right equipment, and would have needed to apply a tourniquet.
Trying to stop the bleeding at a nearby pressure point would not have worked, Izenberg said, despite what a medical expert hired by the family had said.
“I’m 100 percent sure it doesn’t work,” he said.
Testimony began to wrap up this week when Joyce Ostling took the stand.
She said her son showed remarkable intelligence and artistic talents as a young boy, but struggled with school subjects that did not interest him later in life.
He attended the University of Washington, but left after a year, overwhelmed by classes with hundreds of students.
Before the jury returned Wednesday for the wrap-up of Joyce Osling’s testimony, lawyers for both sides argued over what documents from Doug Ostling’s past could be used while questioning his mother on the witness stand.
Jolley, one of the city’s lawyers, hoped to use documents from Kitsap County mental health professionals, records that detailed Joyce Oslting’s comments about her son having checked out.
Kay, an attorney representing the Ostling family, objected. Their side, she said, was willing to “short circuit” the dispute by agreeing that Doug Ostling was a paranoid schizophrenic, a diagnosis his mother had earlier rejected.
The judge, however, said the information was pivotal.
“It informs his behavior,” Leighton said.
“When he’s tased, when he’s shot, when he opened the door, or police opened the door,” he continued.
“One view is he is no danger; he is not violent, he’s not aggressive. Versus this,” the judge said, holding the stack of mental health documents aloft with his left hand.
Leighton called it “the most direct evidence” in a sad case.
“It is tragic,” Leighton said.
“I don’t ascribe a sane motive. But they have a right to tell their story and what they saw,” the judge said, looking toward the Ostlings attorneys. “If you sanitize everything from him and all you know is occasionally after folding his laundry meticulously, he shut the door too loud, it’s not a fair picture.”
Leighton also said he doubted whether the police officers, if they had taken time to talk to the parents before contacting Doug Ostling, would have gotten anything from his parents about their son’s history.
“The reality is, if there had been a consultation for an hour before they went up that stairway they wouldn’t have been told any of this,” he said.
“They are protective; justifiably, justifiably,” he said of William and Joyce Ostling.
“They are great parents. But they wouldn’t have told them anything about what they were going to find when that door opened,” he said, whether Officer Portney or Doug Ostling opened it.
“It’s tragic, but they’ve got a right to fill in the blanks,” he said of the city’s lawyers.
The judge noted that the Ostlings’ attorneys had been able to give their portrayal of Doug Ostling, and the defense would be able to walk through the door they had opened to give their own.
It was a muddy and muddled portrayal, Leighton added, of a man obsessed. Harkening back to earlier comments in the courtroom, he recalled Ostlings’ thoughts of aliens and body snatchers.
“That was one of the scariest movies I ever saw,” Leighton said. “It’s a scary, scary movie.
“I can see where someone would fixate. I had nightmares,” he said finally.
After the jury returned, one of the city’s attorneys pressed Joyce Ostling about the time she contacted Kitsap County mental health officials about her son.
Jolley showed Ostling documents from that time, and how she told officials that her son was delusional and had threatened to kill his father.
The paperwork also shared worries that Ostling had a gun.
Joyce Ostling repeatedly said she didn’t remember what was said at the time.
She was worried about his plans to go to California. He was delusional, she said, and thought he wouldn’t come back.
“I was afraid if he left we would never see him again,” she said.
“I was asking for help,” she said of her calling mental health officials.
Jolley noted that there was a police escort when a mental health worker came to visit her son, and that her son went into the kitchen and grabbed a large knife when they arrived.
Ostling, however, said her son had just come home from the grocery store and was cutting up a chicken he’d brought home.
“You can remember that detail but you can’t remember Doug threatening to kill his father?” Jolley asked.
“Why I remember what I do, I cannot tell you,” she replied.