Family regrets 911 call that led to son’s death at deputies’ hands

If she hadn’t called 911, Mary Ann Sherman believes her older son would still be alive. But at the time, she felt like there was no other choice.

Chase Sherman was having a paranoia attack, believing that his parents and girlfriend were trying to kidnap him as the four traveled south on I-85 to their Florida home that day in November 2015. He tried to get out of the car and was becoming violent. His family suspected he had taken drugs. But drugs were not detected, according to the autopsy.

The family, fearing Chase would hurt himself or them, pulled the car over to the median in Coweta County, and Mary Ann placed the emergency call.

“We thought we were doing the right thing at the time,” Mary Ann Sherman said during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “I wish we had never called 911.”

Deputies and a paramedic arrived at the scene on Nov. 20. Within minutes, Chase Sherman was dead. An autopsy determined the deadly combination of repeated Taser shocks and an EMT’s body weight caused his heart rate to increase and restricted his ability to breathe.

Since his death, Sherman’s family had awaited the results of a GBI investigation that was later sent to District Attorney Pete Skandalakis, along with videos from the deputies’ cameras. The Shermans were hopeful that criminal charges would be filed against those responsible for the death. But on Monday, Skandalakis announced the case would not be presented to a grand jury, meaning no one would be held responsible.

“We felt like the DA’s mind was made up before he saw the video,” David Sherman, Chase’s younger brother, said.

The family’s attorney, Chris Stewart, called it one of the worst investigations he has seen, and he questioned why the case wasn’t presented to a grand jury to let citizens decide whether it warranted criminal charges.

“I think the sheriff is very powerful,” Stewart said Wednesday. “Taking one of these cases to the grand jury takes a lot of courage.”

When the first deputies arrived, they started yelling immediately at 32-year-old Chase, who was combative while being handcuffed. Then, the deputies repeatedly used their Tasers, videos show. An EMT arrived at the scene and held Chase down with his weight.

“I’m dead. I’m dead!” said Sherman as he lay, handcuffed, face down on the floorboard of the car. “I said I quit. I quit!”

Within minutes, he was unresponsive and could not be revived.

“They ripped him out and let him drop to the ground,” Kevin Sherman, Chase’s father, said Wednesday.

Family members said they now struggle to make it through each day, with everything a constant reminder of the son and brother who loved water and helped run the family’s business, leading dolphin-watching expeditions and ferrying parasailers in Destin, Fla.

“I think about him every minute,” Kevin Sherman said.

Last month the family put Chase’s ashes to rest at sea in a memorial reef, a fitting resting spot for a man who was on the water every day. The next step for the Shermans will be filing a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit. Their attorney also plans to request a federal investigation.

“Chase was not the enemy,” Mary Ann Sherman said. “And they treated him like an enemy. He wasn’t a criminal, he was a person having a breakdown. He needed help.”

Chase Sherman, according to his mother, had said he’d used Spice, or synthetic marijuana, a few days before traveling to the Dominican Republic for his brother’s wedding. Mary Ann Sherman said her son began acting erratically while there and became even more irrational while on layover in Atlanta, refusing to board the plane back to Florida. That’s when the family decided to rent a car and drive back to Florida.

Designer drugs such as Spice are often undetectable in the blood, GBI Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan Eisenstat told the AJC.

AJC staff writer Christian Boone contributed to this article.

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