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Bloomington man dies at nature preserve after running away from police, jumping off cliff

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Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of suicide. If you are struggling with suicide or your mental health, you are not alone. Resources are available here

A Bloomington man died after he ran away from police and jumped off a cliff at Cedar Bluff Nature Preserve on April 10. Police were attempting to escort the man, 39-year-old David Howard, to their patrol vehicles for transportation for a mental health evaluation when he pulled away from them.  

The Monroe County Coroner completed an autopsy on April 13, according to a press release from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. The preliminary cause of the Howard’s death is listed as multiple blunt force injuries, and the manner of death is listed as suicide. 

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department detectives completed an initial investigation into the death on April 14, but the case is classified as an ongoing investigation because detectives are still awaiting toxicology results, the final autopsy and any new information presented to them, Monroe County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jeffrey Brown said in an email. Brown said toxicology results usually take several weeks to return to the department.  

Around 7 p.m. on April 10, Monroe County Sherrif’s Department Deputies Trent Walls and Shawn Sullivan responded to a call at Cedar Bluff Nature Preserve, which was later determined to have been placed by Howard, stating there was a body at the bottom of the cliffs at the nature preserve. Along with members of Monroe County Fire Protection District, the deputies conducted a search in the area the night of April 10 and did not locate a body.  

During their search, the deputies found Howard and a woman engaged in a physical altercation at the top of the cliff. According to the press release, deputies thought Howard was trying to throw the woman off the cliff, so the deputies and fire personnel restrained and handcuffed him.  

“After reviewing the entire case report, the initial response from the on scene Deputies said it appeared Mr. Howard was wrestling with the woman but, later through interviews it was determined she was trying to prevent him from jumping off the cliff,” Brown said in an email. This information was not included in the original press release.  

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According to the release, during the 13 minutes of interaction between deputies, Howard and the woman, Howard remained unengaged and quiet. However, Howard told deputies and first responders at the scene “you were supposed to carry me out of here,” Brown said in an email.   

After Walls and Sullivan determined Howard should be taken to IU Health Bloomington Hospital for a mental health evaluation, the deputies told Howard while he was sitting and handcuffed that they were going to walk him towards the area of their patrol vehicles. According to the press release and footage from a deputy’s body camera released by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, Howard cooperated with police before suddenly rotating, pulling away from the officers and running towards the edge of the cliff. Deputy Sullivan attempted to control Howard by grabbing his arm, however, Howard pulled away again and jumped off the 75-foot cliff.  

According to the press release, two seconds elapsed between when Howard escaped Sullivan’s control and when he jumped from the edge of the cliff. Medical personnel who were already present at the scene provided care, but Howard died from his injuries.  

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department stated in the press release a preliminary administrative review found Walls and Sullivan’s actions were “within departmental policies and procedures.”  

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Approximately an hour prior to dispatching to Cedar Bluff Nature Preserve, Walls responded to a call from a concerned friend of Howard who had stated Howard was using her partner’s phone to send messages that “people are going to find him at the bottom of Cedar Bluff.” Brown said it is currently unknown why Howard was in possession of the complainant’s partner’s phone. The friend said she was not aware of his current whereabouts.  

According to the release, the friend also stated she did not want deputies to contact Howard, fearing it would escalate the situation. She told deputies she would speak with Howard’s partner and would call back if any additional response or assistance was needed.

A list of resources is available here if you or someone you know is struggling with suicide or mental health.

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