A coroner's autopsy released Thursday found that the death of a college student, who was forcibly arrested outside a Grateful Dead concert at the Forum earlier this month, resulted from "compression of the neck during restraint," authorities said.
Witnesses at the scene said they saw Inglewood police officers beating Patrick Shanahan, 19, of Fountain Valley with their night sticks as they arrested him after a Dec. 10 concert.
But police spokesmen, who refused to comment on the ruling Thursday, denied that officers either struck Shanahan or used excessive force and contended that he probably died of a drug overdose.
"The mode of death is homicide," said David Campbell, supervising investigator with the Los Angeles County coroner's office. "It's not an accident, not a suicide, it's a homicide--meaning death at the hands of another."
Campbell said Shanahan died from a "compression of the neck during restraint" in addition to "multiple injuries and acute LSD intoxication."
"This entire incident has been a nightmare for us," said Shanahan's father, William, who is executive director of the 1,500-member Garden Grove Educators Assn. "My beautiful 19-year-old son is dead. . . . I am too numb to be angry."
Patrick Shanahan was buried Dec. 22 in New Hampshire, where the Shanahans lived before coming to Southern California.
Conceding that Shanahan experimented with marijuana but disputing his use of harder drugs, family members have hired an attorney, a private pathologist and an investigator to look into the case.
Meanwhile, the district attorney's office is investigating the case, and there is a "possibility that criminal charges will be issued," spokesman Mike Botula said Thursday.
Inglewood police officials indicated earlier this month that they were conducting a routine internal investigation of the incident.
Shanahan, who attended UC Santa Barbara, was pronounced dead at 10:48 p.m. at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital, where doctors ruled the preliminary cause of death was a drug overdose.
Inglewood Police Sgt. Harold Moret said Shanahan had been spotted by police on his hands and knees on a ramp leading up to the Forum "screaming at imaginary people and saying things that indicated he was completely out of it."
When police tried to arrest him for public intoxication, Shanahan began kicking, biting and punching the officers, Moret said. Dozens of people witnessed the scuffle. Eventually, the officers tied his ankles with a nylon rope and handcuffed him. He was carried to a police car, where officers discovered he had stopped breathing.
One of the witnesses to the Shanahan arrest, Neal Bridgnell, 25, a student at Cal State Long Beach, said he was drawn to the scene by loud screams.
"We asked a girl what was going on and she said the cops were beating this guy to death," Bridgnell said.
Bridgnell's girlfriend, Christine Smitts, said police were standing in a semi-circle around Shanahan hitting him with their night sticks.
Another witness, a 24-year-old Venice woman, said: "We saw six big men, all police, coming from two sides. They kept hitting him with their billy clubs. We wanted to know why they were beating him so, but a security guard pushed us back and told us to go our own way."