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Sheriff Nienhuis provides update on in-custody death

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Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis held a press conference on April 14th to update the public on the circumstances surrounding an in-custody death that occurred in April of last year. At the time of the death, some had raised doubts as to the Department’s version of the incident.

Nienhuis told reporters that 49-year-old Hernando County resident Timothy Lee Peters was arrested by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office on April 13, 2022, following a disturbance call. Peters, who was reported to have been extremely intoxicated, was banging on a neighbor’s door at 5:49 AM that day. He was reportedly trying to “evangelize” the neighbor and refusing to leave. The arriving deputies were unable to verbally de-escalate Peters, who was demanding deputies give him another beer. While taking Peters into custody, he fought with deputies, grabbing and kicking them. Once Peters was handcuffed, he was placed in the rear of a patrol car, where he managed to get his hands in front of him, banging on the car windows with the handcuffs. Peters was eventually shackled and, even then, continued to thrust his body against the door and window of the car. Deputies eventually were able to get Peters calmed down enough to transport him to the hospital to be medically evaluated. Once at the hospital, Peters was examined and medically cleared for release to the jail, where he was booked on trespass and several assault-related charges.

According to Nienhuis, Peters was booked into the jail’s medical wing due to his extreme intoxication and “other medical issues” related to his intoxication. Peters made no complaints of pain, injuries, or other issues to the medical staff at the jail and was placed on a detox protocol that involved medications. Peters took the initial dose of detox medication provided to him but refused further doses. Peters remained lucid for much of his first forty-eight hours in jail except for one brief manic episode.

On April 15th, Peters’ demeanor began to change significantly. Local media was provided with over nine minutes of video documenting the change. The video, which was taken from jail cameras, began at 7:38 AM that day when Peters was given his morning medication. Peters accepted and took the medication, then returned to his bunk and went back to sleep. At 10:31 AM, lunch was delivered. Peters accepted his lunch tray and ate his lunch without issues.

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Several minutes later, at 11:03 AM, Peters’ demeanor changed. He was observed on the video ripping his mattress and blankets from the bunk and throwing them onto the floor. He then stood screaming at deputies through his cell door. Peters became even more agitated, removing his shirt and defecating on himself and the floor. During the hour that followed, deputies determined that Peters would have to be removed from his cell to get him cleaned up and clean up the cell. Deputies were also concerned that Peters’s wild and aggressive behavior would lead to him injuring himself. A decision was eventually made to place him in an impact-resistant seclusion cell. By 1:57 PM, deputies were ready to remove Peters from the cell and tried to curb his violent behavior through verbal de-escalation techniques. The attempt failed, and deputies decided to use a “pepper foam” on Peters so they could safely enter the cell and gain control of him. Once Peters was sprayed, Peters laid down on the floor briefly. He stood again and slipped on his own excrement, falling and possibly striking his head on the toilet fixture. As deputies entered to gain control, Peters began struggling with them but was eventually secured. Peters was placed in a restraint wheelchair and transported to a shower so that he could be washed off. Peters continued struggling with deputies in the shower, and the decision was made to place him in a nearby restraint chair rather than continue to the seclusion cell. At 2:18 PM, as deputies finished securing Peters in the chair, deputies noted that his resistance had slowed. Peters soon became completely passive, and deputies were unable to elicit a response. Deputies determined Peters was having a medical issue and began CPR at 2:24 PM while summoning medical aid as well as Hernando County Fire Rescue. Peters was ultimately transported to Bravera Hospital in Brooksville by HCFD. Twenty-nine hours after arrival at the hospital, Peters died.

As a matter of procedure, the Sheriff’s Office asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State’s Attorney’s Office to review the circumstances around Peters’ death. Additionally, the death of Peters was investigated by the Medical Examiner. The Medical Examiner was unable to determine the exact cause of death. The other reviewing agencies found no wrongdoing by Sheriff’s Office personnel. Nienhuis said, “I can’t see anything that I can say definitively, had we done differently, would have had a different outcome.”

Book-in Photo of Timothy Lee Peters taken on 4/13/22. (Photo: HCSO)

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