/ Modified dec 14, 2023 5:21 p.m.

County will not prosecute corrections officers involved in death of jail inmate Wade Welch

An independent investigation found the officers’ actions were within the law of restraining an inmate.

mcmahon-bodycam Deputy Chief John McMahon, a use-of-force and tactical-review expert from the Los Angeles Police Department, reviews 2022 body camera footage from the death of Wade Welch in the Pima County Jail on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023.
Hannah Cree

Pima County Attorney Laura Conover has announced the county will not prosecute the corrections officers involved in the death of Pima County Jail inmate Wade Welch.

At a press conference announcing the decision, John McMahon, a Deputy Chief with the Los Angeles Police Department, analyzed bodycam footage of the altercation that ended Welch’s life.

McMahon specializes in use-of-force incidents and was hired by the County Attorney’s office to conduct an independent investigation.

The footage shows Welch tased seven times by officers. At one point, he says he needs to go to the hospital.

“He says he can’t breathe, but yet again continues his resistance against the officers,” McMahon said.

McMahon said the officers’ actions were justified because Welch continued to resist.

“It was not an optional choice for these officers. They were obligated to take physical control of Mr. Welch. They had to overcome his violent resistance…and the actions of these custodial officers…is objectively reasonable under the law,” he said.

Conover said Welch’s autopsy report lists four causes of death; physical resistance, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and methamphetamine toxicity.

According to reporting by AZLuminaria, the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner ruled Welch’s death a homicide.

Based on McMahon’s investigation, Welch’s autopsy report, and the findings of the Pima Regional Critical Incident Team, Conover said there is “not sufficient evidence to reach a substantial likelihood of conviction.”

“That’s our standard when we seek criminal charges against someone. That’s the role I have had here and the conclusion we’re reaching today. I am not in control of the jail. I am not in control of jail policies and procedures. I am not in control of jail training and I’m not in control of disciplinary issues in the jail,” she said.

A civil trial with Welch’s family is pending, and Conover said that is where questions of the officer’s conduct will be answered.

“Generally speaking ‘could have done better,’ does not mean committed crime. And that was the decision that was before me,” she said.

The decision is raising questions once again about conditions in the Pima County Jail, and its unusually high death rate.

Watching the graphic footage of Welch’s death also reopened old wounds for activists like Stephanie Madero-Piña of No Jail Deaths, whose husband and nephew died in the jail.

“I had to relive…my husband,” she said. “And how he must have felt, being by himself and dying, and not being able to call his family, and us not being there when he died.”

Madero-Piña expressed frustration at the decision not to prosecute.

“I kept hearing ‘they didn’t use excessive force, they followed procedures, they did this,’” she said. “Okay, fine, right, but what about morals? What about human heart, do you have any conscience?”

The County’s Blue Ribbon Commission, tasked with determining whether the county should build a new $400 million dollar jail facility, is expected to release their findings report any day now.

County officials say a newer, bigger facility is needed and will help prevent inmate deaths, but critics say the money should be spent on programs that keep people out of jail, and not to expand its capacity.

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