KINGSPORT — The Kingsport Police Department has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the death of an inmate within its jail nearly seven months ago.
On Wednesday, a Sullivan County grand jury was presented evidence gathered in the case by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and elected to take no action. According to Sullivan County District Attorney Gen. Barry Staubus, an autopsy revealed the Nov. 5 death of Michael R. Baker, 39, Church Hill, was a result of cardiac problems brought about by the ingestion of drugs, including bath salts.
A Nov. 4 KPD incident report states Baker was initially suspected of being on bath salts when he was found vandalizing a woman's home. Following his arrest for public intoxication, disorderly conduct, vandalism and resisting arrest, his alleged erratic and violent behavior forced officers to place him in a restraint chair in the jail.
The next day, after Baker was removed from the chair and held in an area by himself, jailers found him unresponsive. Emergency responders were then called in and determined he was deceased.
"The grand jury found that because of his condition, and what the Kingsport Police Department was faced with, they did all they could do to try and control him," Staubus told the Times-News. "It was found he had not been assaulted or abused. There was no excessive force."
According to KPD records, at approximately 7 a.m. on Nov. 4, police were called to Allen Drive. A resident and multiple witnesses stated they didn't know the man creating the disturbance, who was later identified by police as Baker.
Baker's alleged outburst at the home included breaking items on the patio, tearing screens off windows, and beating on the door while screaming. He reportedly became combative with officers who arrived on the scene, yelling statements that didn't make sense — including "I did not kill her."
After he was taken into custody, police placed a hobble device on Baker's feet, aimed at preventing him from kicking while in the back seat of the patrol car. Once brought to jail, according to KPD records, Baker continued to be "violent" with officers.
The report says a "lengthy struggle" ensued with officers attempting to book Baker, prompting a supervisor to approve placing him in a restraint chair.
KPD Public Information Officer Tom Patton reported Baker was removed from the chair after approximately four hours, once he was less combative. Patton said Baker was then placed into a holding area by himself, but his "irrational conduct continued." At approximately 5 a.m. the next day, Baker was found dead.