Coroner Says Slain Teen Was on Drugs

Times Staff Writer

Robert Scriven was under the influence of methamphetamine when he was shot and killed Jan. 2 by an Escondido police officer, according to a coroner's report released Wednesday.

"It was an amount we typically see in people who abuse methamphetamine," said Dr. Ronald Rivers, San Diego County's chief medical examiner.

Escondido police say the report is consistent with their contention that Scriven, 17, who led police on a car and foot chase, was especially combative when he struggled with Officer Martin Hewlett.

Struggled for Gun

That confrontation ended in gunfire as the two struggled for control of the officer's handgun, and Hewlett fired off 15 of the 16 rounds in the semiautomatic gun. Fourteen of the bullets hit the Escondido youth, who died at the scene.

Richard Potack, an attorney hired by Scriven's family, acknowledged Wednesday that the teen-ager had used methamphetamines a day or two before he was killed, but said Scriven was "coming down off the drugs" when he was killed and was not under their influence.

"The fact he had drugs in his system is of less importance than if he was under the influence and was so wired on the drugs that he was stronger and was the aggressor," Potack said.

The lawyer said interviews with those who had been with Scriven in the hours before his death, including his mother, indicate that Scriven was not experiencing the symptoms associated with being under the influence of the manufactured drug, also known as crystal.

Rivers said he is unable to determine how Scriven would have acted based on the amount found in his system, partly because it is not known how many hours previously he had ingested the drug and partly because reaction to the drug varies from person to person.

Sense of Endurance

Symptoms associated with crystal use can include an increased sense of endurance, optimism and willingness to take risks and, in more extreme cases, can include nervousness, paranoia, confusion, panic and assaultive behavior, according to law enforcement officials.

"That explains why he was able to outlast a bigger, stronger officer in a fight," Police Capt. John Fitzgerald said.

But another symptom of methamphetamine use is loss of appetite, and Potack said Scriven had eaten a large meal of pasta several hours before the midnight confrontation with police, which occurred after Scriven was seen driving a stolen vehicle. The autopsy report confirmed that Scriven had eaten in the hours before his death.

"Apparently the last time he had used crystal was on New Year's Eve and into New Year's Day," Potack said. "So it doesn't surprise me they found it in his system, especially if he had been doing a (significant) amount. But he hadn't done it in the 12 or 24 hours before his death. He was coming down. He ate an enormous meal."

Furthermore, Potack contended, Scriven was tired and was yawning just 30 minutes or so before his death, again suggesting that he was no longer under the influence of the drug, which causes insomnia.

The district attorney's office is reviewing the case, as is customary when a police officer is involved in a fatal shooting. The Police Department has promised its own internal review as well, pending the district attorney's conclusions.

Potack said he is preparing a wrongful-death claim against the department on behalf of Scriven's family.

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