L.A. County deputy was found dead with meth pipe after double shift, autopsy shows

A roll of police tape is left on the windshield of Los Angeles County sheriff's vehicle in the parking lot of its training academy in Whittier, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. A car struck 22 LA County sheriff's recruits on a training run around dawn Wednesday and five were critically injured, authorities said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A roll of police tape is left on the windshield of Los Angeles County sheriff's vehicle. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

A Los Angeles County deputy who died in April from methamphetamine use had high levels of the drug in his body when he was found unresponsive inside a sheriff’s station bathroom after working a double shift, according to a death report released late Wednesday.

On the evening of April 27, the report shows, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detective called the county medical examiner to report an “apparent natural death” after Deputy Jonathan Stewart was found dead in a bathroom stall with white powder and drug paraphernalia.

Read more: South L.A. deputy died from 'effects of methamphetamine,' medical examiner finds

Last week, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner determined the 41-year-old’s death was due to “effects of methamphetamine” and deemed it accidental instead of natural.

Now, the 13-page death investigation released this week by the medical examiner offers a fuller picture of what happened.

On April 26, Stewart started working around 9 p.m. He was last seen alive the following day just before noon, when surveillance cameras at the South L.A. sheriff’s station recorded him moving a car in the parking lot.

He was scheduled to finish his 16-hour double shift at 1 p.m. When his wife didn’t hear from him by 4 p.m. she called the station desk, according to the report.

Deputies searched the building and found Stewart unresponsive inside a locked one-person bathroom. He was lying on the floor, according to the report, and there was “a glass bulbous pipe and a white powdery substance inside a small plastic baggie found at the scene.” There were no clear signs of trauma, but the report said he had blood near his nose and mouth.

Deputies called 911, and just before 4:30 p.m., paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Sheriff’s officials released a statement at the time offering little information about the death other than to say it was unexpected and the department was “deeply saddened.” The governor released a statement saying that Stewart had died following a “medical emergency” and that flags at the state Capitol would be flown at half-staff in his honor.

A few days later, an investigator with the medical examiner’s office called Stewart’s wife, who said he had not recently been sick and did not have a history of drug abuse. She also said he’d lost about 20 pounds in the last three months after he quit drinking soda. Elsewhere the report noted that he’d typically consumed six Monster energy drinks or 12 cans of soda per day and had a history of high blood pressure.

“Recently, the decedent was very stressed and working double overtime,” an investigator wrote.

Toxicology testing found methamphetamine and amphetamine — a closely related chemical that can be created when the body breaks down methamphetamine — in his bloodstream.

After reviewing the death report, Dr. Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and associate professor of emergency medicine at Case Western Reserve University, told The Times that Stewart had a “fairly high level” of the drug in his blood, beyond what would be considered a “standard dose” even for recreational use.

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But without a more detailed autopsy, Marino said it wasn’t clear whether Stewart’s death was directly due to acute toxicity — which is colloquially known as an overdose — or whether the meth was more indirectly involved, perhaps triggering heart issues or aggravating another underlying factor.

This week, the Sheriff’s Department said in an emailed statement that the investigation of the death is still ongoing.

“The department is deeply saddened by Deputy Stewart’s death and continues to grieve and offer support to his family, friends, and colleagues,” the statement said.

An online obituary described him as a dedicated officer and devoted family man.

“Known for his kindness, selflessness, and supportiveness, Jonathan's impact on his family and friends was profound,” the obituary said. “He will be missed deeply and remembered fondly by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.