Man Dies in Custody After Deputy Uses Pepper Spray, ‘Force’ at Highland Gas Station

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Joseph Slater died after being detained at this Valero gas station in Highland on April 15, 2015. The gas station is seen in an image from Google Map Street View.

A 28-year-old Highland man died on Wednesday after a deputy used pepper spray and “force” while detaining him at a gas station for an alleged vandalism, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The Highland Police Department was dispatched to the Valero Gas Station located at 27767 Base Line Rd. (map) shortly after 1 a.m. to a report of a “suspicious subject damaging the property,” a Sheriff’s Department’s news release stated.

Minutes later, a deputy arrived and found Joseph Slater in front of the gas station’s convenience store displaying “unusual” behavior, according to the release.

The deputy detained Slater and attempted to place him in the back of a police patrol car. However, he would not cooperate and refused to sit in the vehicle, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Pepper spray was deployed, but Slater continued to resist and attempted to push the deputy back, according to the department’s news release. He was then able to force his way out of the car.

Then, “Slater was taken to the ground and force was used to overcome his resistance,” the release said.  Authorities did not specify what type of force the deputy used.

At that point, additional deputies arrived at the gas station. Medical aid was also summoned to check on Slater’s condition and to “decontaminate” him.

He was initially placed in the backseat of the patrol vehicle where he experienced what the Sheriff’s Department called a “significant medical emergency.”

Slater was removed from the car and life-saving measures were performed on him. He was rushed to St. Bernardine Medical Center where he later died.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Specialized Investigations Division was investigating the incident.

An autopsy to determine the cause of his death would be conducted by the Riverside County Coroner’s Office, according to the department.

Anyone with information about the incident was asked to call sheriff’s Det. Troy Mooradian or Sgt. Robert Warrick at 909-387-3589.

Those who would like to leave information anonymously were asked to contact the We-Tip Hotline by calling 1-800-782-7463 or by going to the website