What Really Happened?

08.31.12

Autopsy of Porn Star 'Sledge Hammer' Reveals 'Neck Trauma,' Raising Questions About LAPD’s Actions

Actor Marland Anderson died after an altercation with police in April. Now, an autopsy reveals he suffered “neck trauma.” What really happened? Christine Pelisek and Maria Elena Fernandez report.

A Los Angeles porn actor who mysteriously died in April after he was Tasered by police suffered “neck trauma,” according to new findings released by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. In making its determination, the coroner’s office also said it could not rule how 39-year-old Marland Anderson—who went by the porn name Sledge Hammer—was injured, leaving the manner of death as “undetermined.”

The Coroner’s findings list “neck compression” as well as “acute anoxic encephalopathy and aspiration pneumonia” as the final cause of death. LAPD Commander Andrew Smith said the department’s Force Investigation Division is reviewing the incident. "We are conducting an investigation into this incident,” he said. “That investigation is not yet complete. We cannot discuss an investigation that has yet to be completed.”

Because the full autopsy report is not yet available, and the L.A. Coroner’s Office declined to explain its findings further, The Daily Beast contacted two experts in forensics pathology to review the cause and manner of death.

“His neck was injured almost certainly in the altercation with the multiple police officers—very likely leaning, pressing down on him, possibly his neck was hyper-extended,” says renowned pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. “They compressed his neck either by direct pressure on his neck, or the neck may have been hyper-extended and so on. But since they use the word ‘compression,’ I would think they compressed by pressing down on his neck—whether they kneeled on him or sat on him, I can’t tell you that. But that’s what happened.”

Dr. Stephen Godfrey, the medical director of Path Counsel & Peace of Mind, a St. Louis-based private autopsy service, added that “the anoxic encephalopathy tells me there was a period of time where his brain sustained irreversible damage from not getting enough blood supply.” Aspiration pneumonia occurs when foreign matter, usually food particles or vomit, enters into the bronchi.

Although the findings are the first indication of what may have happened to the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Anderson, many questions remain about what exactly transpired between the porn actor and the police. Anderson’s girlfriend said he took sleeping pills and drank alcohol to try to sleep, but the preliminary findings do not mention if intoxication was a factor in his death.

“There are different scenarios that can lead to this neck injury,” Wecht said. “When you think of compression, choke-holding would be a form of compression. We don’t know enough about the situation to be able to determine that’s what happened. This may well be the most likely physical mechanism. There was some force upon the neck. I’m not saying it has to be a choke-hold 100 percent, but that is another possibility here.”

“There was some force upon the neck,” says one independent expert. “I’m not saying it has to be a choke-hold 100 percent, but that is another possibility here.”

The incident began in the early morning hours of April 8, when authorities responded to a call by Anderson’s girlfriend, Alexa Cruz, of an attempted suicide in Canoga Park, a suburb in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. Cruz, who was interviewed by The Daily Beast at the time of Anderson’s death, said her boyfriend, who was wielding a knife, was threatening to end his life. She was so scared that she called the police, hoping he would get the psychiatric help she felt he needed but refused to get on his own.

Although his friends described him as a giant “teddy bear” who preferred to be alone in his apartment with his girlfriend reading comic books, playing with his superhero figurines, and watching science-fiction movies, Anderson had suffered since childhood from insomnia and, at times, paranoia. To help induce sleep, he often combined sleeping pills with alcohol, and had also tried medical marijuana but stopped when it caused profound hallucinations. In early April, the week before Cruz called police for help, Anderson was behaving particularly strangely, she said. His paranoia was intensifying and he mentioned wanting to die.

According to LAPD spokesman Lt. Andrew Neiman, officers arrived at his Canoga Park apartment at 3:24 a.m. and determined that Anderson needed to be medically evaluated. Seventeen minutes later, the Los Angeles Fire Department ambulance arrived, and Anderson walked down the stairs and left peacefully with them.

As the ambulance headed to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, Anderson lay on a gurney, with his hands cuffed to the left and right sides of the gurney, Neiman said. In the ambulance with him were a police officer, the driver, and a paramedic.

“Suddenly, Mr. Anderson sat up on the gurney in sort of a bizarre manner and would not lay back down,” Neiman told The Daily Beast in April. “He appeared to become agitated. They tried to calm him down and he progressively became more aggressive and resistant to the point where he was trying to actually stand up with the gurney. He was able to break open one of the handcuffs from the railing.”

Because the police officer and paramedic were unable to control Anderson, the driver pulled over at 4:07 a.m., according to Neiman. The officer’s partner, who was following in a patrol car, opened the back door and saw his partner holding Anderson “in a bear hug around his chest trying to get him back down on the gurney with very little effect," Neiman said. At that point, the partner officer used the Taser in “contact mode,” which means it did not deploy the darts. It had no effect on Anderson, who broke the gurney free from the floor of the locking system and became even harder to control, Neiman said.

At 4:11 a.m., the officers requested back-up and six to eight police officers responded.  They were still having difficulty controlling him “because of his extraordinary strength” so they Tasered him a second time, Neiman said.

“Again, that did not work and ultimately the officers were able to overpower him with sheer body weight and firm grips and were able to get him under control again and back into the ambulance on the gurney,” Neiman told The Daily Beast in April.

“They continued back on to the hospital.” The ambulance arrived at Northridge Hospital Medical Center at 4:29 a.m., Neiman said.

When Cruz arrived at the hospital a few hours later, she said she was shocked to learn that he was in critical condition in ICU.  Cruz was told at the hospital Anderson had brain damage and might not wake up.  He died on April 13, after his mother took him off the respirator.

Days after the incident, the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that Anderson had been Tasered twice during the confrontation with officers but declined to disclose Anderson’s condition when he arrived in the hospital. Coroner’s officials performed an autopsy on the porn star the following week and didn’t render an opinion until Wednesday. 

Anderson began his career in the sex industry in 1995 at the age of 22 and starred in over 700 pornographic films, according to producers of the films. He was recognized mostly for his voluminous work in the interracial porn genre and for his regular stint in Pink Visual’s Gangbang Squad series. He also appeared on numerous websites including the interracial porn site, Blacks on Blondes. In scenes, he almost always wore a thick wristband and a smile on his face, his friends told The Daily Beast when he died.

Anderson’s friends say his family has hired an attorney. His mother did not return phone calls from The Daily Beast on Thursday.