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Death of man restrained by police at UPMC Shadyside ruled accidental

| Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 12:38 a.m.
Ricardo Vitthordio Martinez II, 39, of Bridgeville died on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.

The death of a man while he was handcuffed and being restrained by a police officer in UPMC Shadyside hospital was ruled accidental on Tuesday by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner.

Ricardo Martinez, 39, who had addresses in Wilkinsburg and Bridgeville, died of “asphxiation due to restraint in the prone position,” a spokesman for the medical examiner's office said. Contributing factors, the spokesman said, were obesity and dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that can cause heart failure.

“The death is very similar, in terms of mechanism, to the death of Jonny Gammage,” said former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, in reference to the 1995 death of a black motorist who died facedown of “positional asphyxiation” during a traffic stop when police put too much weight on his back.

“I agree that the manner of (the Martinez) death is accidental, but that doesn't mean somebody is not at fault,” Wecht said. “This was an avoidable death.”

Martinez was handcuffed because he was accused of attempting to strangle a physician in the hospital where he went for treatment of what Pittsburgh police described as mental health issues on Dec. 9.

Hospital security personnel and a University of Pittsburgh police officer responded to the call, city police have said.

Martinez, who was more than 6 feet tall and weighed more than 300 pounds, struggled with staff and security guards until the unidentified officer subdued him long enough to cuff his wrists behind his back and place him facedown on the floor, city police have said. Martinez lapsed into unconsciousness and was turned onto his back but could not be revived, police said.

“Police officers across the country are taught you do not place somebody and keep them in a prone position with pressure on their back,” said Wecht, adding that he has received some inquiries from the Martinez family but has not been retained to examine the death.

“What happens is that the liver and parts of the bowels are pushed up against the diaphram and that compromises respiratory function. The lungs are not able to expand properly.”

People need more oxygen when they are struggling, Wecht said.

Neither the Martinez family nor a spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. could be reached for comment.

“We are sorry for the Martinez family's loss,” read a statement from UPMC. “UPMC's clinical and security personnel worked at all times to respond appropriately to patient care needs and a difficult security situation.”

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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