Handcuffed DUI suspect dies after jumping off Seattle bridge

A handcuffed man jumped off a bridge after being pulled over for a suspected DUI. But the incident raises the question: What happens when someone crosses over from being a private citizen to being in police custody?

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The Kirkland, Washington, man suspected of DUI died Friday morning after he jumped, while handcuffed, from the 520 bridge east of Seattle.

The short answer is the trooper or the arresting officer is responsible. But as happened on the 520 bridge early that morning, even a routine arrest can go horribly wrong.

It was dark and just past 1:30 a.m. Friday.

A Washington State trooper pulled over a 31-year-old Kirkland man suspected of driving under the influence on Highway 520 near the west high rise. But WSP says when the trooper arrested the man and placed him in handcuffs, he ran and jumped off the bridge and into Lake Washington.

"Placing a person into custody for a DUI is very different from placing a person into custody for a high level felony," said Dr. David Makin, Washington State University criminology professor, "meaning when you have a reason to believe there's a flight risk. "

He was asked whether putting handcuffs on a suspect changes their relationship.

"When you place a person into custody," said Makin, "you take on the responsibility to take reasonable steps to protect them from -- and here's the really important thing -- foreseeable risk."

He says with a DUI arrest, the trooper might reasonably not foresee the suspect would try to flee.

"However if you look online you can see hundreds of videos of suspects fleeing police while in handcuffs," said Makin. "Unfortunately you can do everything within policy and these unfortunate outcomes occur."

A state patrol spokesman said the trooper tried to grab the man but stopped short of jumping into Lake Washington to go after him.

"It's not as if troopers won't go into the water to make rescues," said WSP Capt. Ron Mead. "Listen this is a 65-75 foot drop. We train our troopers for water rescues. But we also train them to know when it's appropriate."

WSP's regulation manual cautions troopers: "The time between the arrest and incarceration is very critical for officer safety. Facing the loss of freedom," the manual says, may cause a suspect to "become extremely desperate and dangerous. Therefore, the transporting officer must be on guard for any eventuality."

Makin says even if an arresting officer fears the suspect might flee, he or she will have to weigh the risks of using great force to prevent the suspect from getting away.

"Finding the balance is really critical," said Makin. "I'm empathetic to the family of the man and the Washington state trooper involved in this incident."

"Why," he was asked.

"Because this is a very unfortunate, traumatic event," he said. "And I think this is something often that maybe we minimize in terms of officers' fate. That officer tried to do their very best and sometimes you can do everything within policy and you can have an unfortunate outcome."

That was borne out by Capt. Ron Mead regarding the incident on the 520 bridge.

"The trooper involved, as you can imagine, is devastated," he said.

The man suspected of jumping off the 520 bridge has not been identified.

Because this incident involves a Washington state trooper, the investigation has been turned over to Seattle police.

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