Panel: Police "contributed," but largely not at fault in security-check death

In the 11 months since Desseria Whitmore's death behind a security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the Seattle banker's family has come to believe some of the actions by Port of Seattle police "contributed" to her death.

Yesterday, an inquest jury confirmed some of those beliefs, while acknowledging that the officers, for the most part, weren't at fault in the events leading up to Whitmore's Oct. 25 death.

King County prosecutors will use the jury's findings in determining whether officers acted appropriately.

Whitmore and a friend were on their way to Spokane to handle the estate of Whitmore's late father when a security screener found a pipe and a small amount of marijuana in her luggage.

Whitmore, 52, was asked to sit and wait for Port of Seattle police. When they arrived, a scuffle ensued; the events leading up to that are a main bone of contention between the family and Port officials. Whitmore died after choking on a small package of cocaine that became lodged in her windpipe during the scuffle, according to the medical examiner.

Jurors were asked to answer yes or no to 13 questions about the events, including: "Was Officer Froylan Angeles the first Port of Seattle police officer to arrive at the scene," to "Did Desseria Whitmore struggle against Officer Angeles' attempts to gain control of her," to "Did Desseria Whitmore swallow a plastic bag containing cocaine."

"What they [jurors] came back and said to us at the end was that the officer wasn't very verbal, untrained and he wasn't very professional," said Bernadine Anderson, Whitmore's sister. "We thought that all along and to have objective people come back with that after the testimony that was very relieving for us."

But John Wolfe, the attorney representing the Port of Seattle, said the jurors' answers "are consistent with what happened factually."

Only two of the eight jurors thought Angeles had reason to believe Whitmore had "swallowed something," and only two jurors thought Whitmore tried to leave the scene after being detained by Angeles.

When jurors were asked whether Whitmore died from cocaine ingestion, one juror listed "fear" as her cause of death.

"The findings of the inquest jury do not indicate the officers acted improperly," Wolfe said. "This is a regrettable tragedy."

After hearing the findings, Anderson said it is a "good probability" the family will file a civil suit against the Port of Seattle, which runs the airport.