‘Nothing criminal’ in man’s death in pond; police report details time at hospital

Authorities have determined no criminal charges will be filed in the death of a 56-year-old Sweet Home man whose body was discovered at Best Western Premier Boulder Falls Inn on Feb. 24.

Alfred Andrew Nichelson’s death was was determined to be a drowning, said Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny on June 19.

“I have enough information now to determine (there is) nothing criminal here,” Marteeny said. “So, the case has been closed out as far as a D.A. analysis. The (State Medical Examiner) analysis will close out once (toxicology) results are in.”

Nichelson was seen in the emergency room at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital on the night of Feb. 23, where he threatened to “OD on pain pills if not admitted to LCH,” according to a police log entry.

The State Medical Examiner is conducting a toxicology report but the Lebanon Police Department has not yet received the results.

According to LPD’s 70-page report on Nichelson’s death, he had a bottle containing seven small round pills and one yellow capsule with him at the hospital. A bottle containing seven small round pills and one yellow capsule was found with his body in the pond.

LPD and Lebanon Fire District personnel arrived at Boulder Falls at 7:58 a.m. on Feb. 24, in response to a report from grounds-keeping employees. Nichelson’s body appeared to have been submerged for several hours, according to an LPD press release.

Nichelson was listed as a transient out of Sweet Home in a police statement after his death.

Sweet Home Police Chief Jeff Lynn said his department had more than 50 interactions with Nichelson dating back to 1987, the last of which was a welfare check on Feb. 23.

Nichelson was a registered sex offender, with five convictions in 1991 and one conviction in 2008, according to the State of Oregon Sex Offender Registry.

The final Lebanon police report includes interviews with hospital staff who interacted with Nichelson on the night of Feb. 23-24, including one staff member who said she contacted LPD because she was “‘disturbed’ by how certain medical staff treated Alfred and she felt compelled to talk with (officers).”

On Feb. 27, Detective Taylor Jackson interviewed the charge nurse that was on duty the night Nichelson was in the emergency room. The nurse said he was not working on the day of the interview, but was in town to talk about the incident with his supervisor, according to the police report.

“He stated that they knew the police would need to speak with him,” Jackson wrote.

SLCH CEO Marty Cahill said staff  members were not advised to contact police because of patient privacy protections.

“If someone believes that someone in this organization can contribute to an investigation, they can contact this organization or that person and ask to speak with them,” Cahill said.

The charge nurse told Jackson that he remembered seeing Nichelson that night because “(Nichelson) had two different visits during the same shift and that alone made it out of the ordinary.”

According to Jackson’s report, a different nurse took care of Nichelson during his first visit.

Nichelson was seen and discharged twice on the evening of Feb. 23.

At 10:31 p.m., after his first visit, he called LPD from the hospital lobby, upset that SLCH staff would not transport him to Good Samaritan hospital in Corvallis.

An officer spoke with the SLCH nursing supervisor, who said that Nichelson had been “seen, treated and discharged” and they were not able to help him further, police Lt. Scott Bressler said.
SLCH wanted to have Nichelson trespassed but no trespass notice was issued, Bressler said.
During the Feb. 27 interview with Jackson, the charge nurse said that the first contact he had with Nichelson that night was when he was on the registration desk phone with LPD.

According to the police report, the nurse told Jackson that Nichelson’s demeanor was “typical for being an unusual guy” and that it was difficult to figure out what he wanted.

Conversations between officers and Nichelson documented in the final report indicate officers were trying to find transportation and shelter for him.

“We told Alfred we could not pay for his cab fare to Corvallis,” Reserve Officer Kyle Tucker wrote. At that point Nichelson called Good Samaritan Hospital and asked the admitting nurse about the possibility of them paying for transportation, according to the report.

Tucker said the GSH admitting nurse told Nichelson it was hospital policy to not pay cab fare to have a patient admitted, “but on rare occasions they may pay cab fare when a patient is discharged. Alfred asked the nurse to relay this information to police in order for it to be documented,” Tucker wrote.

Tucker said he confirmed that information with the Corvallis nurse.

Cahill said the hospital generally offers vouchers for taxis to SLCH patients who do not have rides upon discharge, though, he said, there are night and early morning hours when taxis do not run in Lebanon.

“They can stay in our waiting room, get a voucher for a cab ride, and wait for the cab rides to start running again, which we do not control, or they can leave,” Cahill said. “We don’t hold people here against their will.”

Nichelson told officers he had the right to get medical help, according to the report. They responded that he had already been seen and discharged.

At one point, Nichelson told officers he had already taken two pills. While he was outside the hospital speaking with officers, at about 11 p.m., Nichelson attempted to take more pills.

An officer’s body camera recorded that interaction. Officer Alan Baker’s body camera recorded the conversation with emergency room staff when he told them Nichelson tried to take more pills.

“There was a myriad of responses, ranging from laughter to a comment made by an unknown individual of, ‘Baclofen wouldn’t do it,’” according to Detective Justin Bach’s written report of the video.

That portion of the body camera video was viewed by The New Era.

The doctor who saw Nichelson said, “You can bring him back here, but I’m just going to discharge him,” according to the report.

The doctor told Baker that it was his belief that Nichelson was being manipulative.

“An unidentified female nurse then approaches (the doctor) and asks him, ‘Are you just gonna discharge him and not do any kind of mental health or anything like that?’ (The doctor’s) response seemed to affirm the nurse’s question in that he was going to talk with Alfred and then discharge him,” according to Bach’s report.

Cahill said emergency room patients “receive a medical screening exam by a doctor. The doctor then assesses their chief complaint and any other complaints.”

If a doctor believes a patient is a danger to themselves or to the community, they contact a psychiatrist at Linn County Health, Cahill said.

It is a two-physician process to hold a patient, he said.

When Baker asked the doctor what he wanted done with the medication Nichelson had on him, the doctor said. “I guess we can confiscate them.”

The doctor went outside to speak with Nichelson, at which point Nichelson said he already told the officers what he was going to do and didn’t want to explain himself again.

The doctor told him that if he was suicidal he would need to be admitted and would be “‘locked’ in room No. 3 until a crisis worker could come out and talk to him,” according to the report. He was told that he would be discharged again, out into the waiting room and that he would not be transported to Corvallis. Nichelson again said he would take his pills.

The staff member who contacted police regarding concerns about how Nichelson was treated by certain medical staff said Nichelson “seemed a little off,” that he urinated on himself about three times while in the emergency room lobby and “continually requested conversations he was having with various people be recorded and that he was requesting to be transported to a hospital in Corvallis because he was in ‘medical distress,’” according to the report.

The staff member said that when it was determined Nichelson was going to be checked in, the charge nurse removed the bed from Room 3, where Nichelson was to be kept, which is located in view of the nurse’s station.

On March 23, officers interviewed the doctor who treated Nichelson in the emergency room on Feb. 23. He said he was not sure why the bed was removed from Room 3 or whose decision it was.

“(The doctor) appeared to agree with me that if a patient who was admitted into Room 3 was strong and out of their minds, then pretty much everything in the room was generally removed. However, Alfred was very frail, had to utilize a walker to get around, yet the bed was removed. (The doctor) told me he hadn’t really thought about why the bed was removed,” according to Bach’s report.

Cahill did not comment on the responses of the emergency room staff or Nichelson.

He said if someone reported that type of response from staff, he would handle it as he would any complaint.

“What I would do with (any complaint) is talk with everyone that was involved and not take a snippet, one piece of an interaction,” Cahill said. “I’d look at the entire interaction. I’d make sure that it was investigated, that people were spoken to. (That) we got the whole picture and not just a snippet of an interaction to take it out of context or not have what happened from the beginning of an interaction to the end of an interaction. I think that’s important, that we look at an interaction in its entirety.”

SLCH staff has been using a program called TeamSTEPPS for about a year, Cahill said.

“It’s about communication and how to communicate, with each other and with our patients,” he said. “You’ve got to be good at your job and you’ve got to be nice at your job. Those are both expectations of this organization and of our system.”