Death of a nobody

Jimmy Mize died broke in the scuzzy Morrison Hotel. Maybe that's why no one is bothering to investigate.

THE PERFECT MURDER? If performed in Seattle, here's a recommendation: Shoot your victim not with a gun but a needle.

You can either leave the death weapon at the scene or take it with you. Either way, you are home free.

If the target is nobody living nowhere, that's a bonus.

Who's to say this isn't what happened to drifter Jimmy Mize in his messy one-room flop at the Morrison Hotel? Not the police or the medical examiner's office, who looked into his May 7 death. Not the Seattle Housing Authority, in whose building he lived and died.

None of them find anything incongruent about a man who is said to have killed himself by drug injection in a room with no needle.

A police sergeant and a patrol officer "did not find any suspicious circumstances surrounding Mize's death," according to officer Jim Garner's police report. The lack of a needle in the room "didn't raise any suspicions," according to medical investigator Pam Selz. "We found nothing suspicious," says SHA spokesman Jim Kjeldsen.

Kjeldsen, however, has a few doubts. "SHA is very interested and concerned," he says, about Mize's death-by-missing-needle. "He was not a known drug user."

I couldn't determine if homicide detectives lacked suspicion. Homicide referred me to police media relations. Media relations referred me to homicide. But there's no indication detectives reviewed the case.

When I inquired last week about the death, detectives and media officers were busy with more important crimes, including recent gang shootings that left three dead.

Guns were used in those homicides, presenting all kinds of problems for the shooters—loud noises, eyewitnesses, bullet rifflings.

A needle is not too reliable for drive-bys. But, in the right situation, it can do a clean, quiet job of its own.

POLICE WERE DISPATCHED at 7:20pm Sunday, May 7, to check on an unresponsive man in unit 525 of the city-owned Morrison on Third Avenue near Pioneer Square. The run-down 91-year-old building offers free overnight housing for up to 250 people and subsidized temporary housing for another 205 homeless.

Some call the Morrison a war zone and live in fear. Drugs are widely available in the building and along sidewalks out front—a stoner's throw from police headquarters across the street.

A recent city study found 31 of 79 Morrison residents surveyed felt unsafe. Police responded to 158 calls there the first six months of 2000, including 21 assaults, three rapes, and two deaths—a natural and Mize's, an apparent drug OD.

Officer Garner discovered Mize lying on his bed, shirtless. His purplish skin color indicated he'd been dead awhile. A witness said he saw Mize the night before. He saw him next 21 hours later when he heard Mize's TV playing, opened his unlocked door, and found him dead.

The officer noticed a rubber tourniquet on the floor, a burned spoon and needle cap on the table, and "what appeared to be track marks on his left arm." There was also a bottle of Drano drain opener on the floor.

And no needle. That clinched it. He killed himself.

Garner called the medical examiner to come get James D. Mize, white, divorced, a drifter and unemployed war vet born in Texas who died two months short of his 46th birthday. Neither the police nor the ME report states Mize was a known drug user.

In her report, deputy examiner Selz recalls entering "the single room, 5th floor, dirty and cluttered apartment. There I observed the decedent lying supine on his bed with his legs bent at the knees and hanging off the side of the bed. Rigor was 4+ in the fingers and 3 in the extremities, liver was dark purple, posterior and blanched just slightly on palpation [touch]. What appeared to be recent needle marks were observed on his left antecubital fossa [inside part of the elbow]. A small amount of blood fluid was emanating from his mouth and nares [nostrils]. No obvious trauma was observed . . . I was unable to find a syringe."

Case, essentially, closed.

Lisa Werlech, of the Seattle-King County Health Department, says Mize's cause of death is listed as "acute intoxication due to combined effects of opiates, and is classified as a probable accident."

Mize apparently shot up heroin. It's unclear if or how he may have used the Drano, a product sometimes utilized to dilute drugs, or itself recklessly cooked up and shot by meth addicts.

As for the needle, Mize is presumed to have somehow disposed of his "works"—the syringe—just before he died (some users have been known to drop them out windows). "Very often when we arrive at a crime scene the works are missing," Selz said last week. Sometimes, others at the scene take the needles, she added.

Does that possibility raise questions about who might have been in the death room, and warrant further investigation? "Not by us," Selz said.

Not by police either. I asked for the complete investigative files on Mize. There was only the one officer's incident report.

SHA won't be investigating either. "It's a matter for the police to decide whether there was any complicity in the death," says Kjeldsen, "and I'm told there is no continuing investigation."

John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, the homeless advocacy group watchdogging the Morrison, asks: "With proper case management and security, could this man's life have been saved?

The Morrison's manager had no comment. SHA says if there were security breakdowns, they'd like to know about them.

Maybe it is as simple as they say: Jimmy Mize accidentally killed himself with a needle that is missing and presumed deadly. If it was something, or someone, else, we may never know. He died at the Morrison, not the Plaza.

 
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