Willie David Vandiver, 38

Greensboro, North Carolina
August 31, 2015

Agencies: State Bureau of Investigations SBI North Carolina | Guilford County Sheriff's Office North Carolina

Cause of death: Beating

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Last updated: over 5 years ago


David Vandiver’s family waited months to learn how he died in the Guilford County jail.

“Their calling it homicide by no means shows intent,” SBI spokesman Scott Williams said. “They just couldn’t rule out that his contact with the jail staff didn’t cause his heart rate to elevate, which led to his death.”

Leading up to his death, Vandiver had been exhibiting “odd behavior,” according to his autopsy report. The day before he died, he’d threatened to kill himself and was placed on suicide watch. He was naked and in an individual cell.

He began banging his head on the cell walls, toilet and floor. He eventually slipped on the wet floor — where he had spit and urinated — and hit his head, according to the report. Deputies called emergency medical service because he was bleeding. Deputies removed Vandiver from his cell, restrained him and took him in a wheelchair to a holding area to await medical treatment. During the move, Vandiver began thrashing, spraying blood and spittle onto staff members. Deputies placed a blanket over his head to prevent bodily fluids from getting onto the staff and tried to place a “spit mask” over his face.

They removed the blanket and lay him prone on the floor to put a jumpsuit on him. While on the floor, he became unresponsive. Paramedics took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

His autopsy was conducted that day. It surmised that obesity and schizophrenia contributed to his death — that he died of a heart attack because of his high blood pressure and heart disease “in the setting of minor blunt force injury and physical restraint.”

The report concludes by stating that the manner of death is best classified as homicide.

That finding, released months after the death, caused the sheriff’s office to immediately turn over investigation of the death to the SBI, according to Williams, special agent in charge of the SBI’s Northern Piedmont District.

The sheriff’s office gave the SBI its investigative report, the autopsy report and a video recording of what happened at the jail, he said.

The News & Record has requested a copy of that recording but has not received it.

The SBI also interviewed a supervisor from the medical examiner’s office.

In their reports, medical examiners have five choices for what caused a death — accidental, suicidal, natural, homicidal and undetermined.

Intent to cause death is not required for a classification of homicide, Kate Murphy, with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email to the newspaper.

“The classification of homicide for the purposes of death certification is a ‘neutral’ term and neither indicates nor implies criminal intent,” she wrote.