Kristina Compher worries that her three children are not the same people they were a year ago, before their father Christopher Murphy died after an auto accident and subsequent encounter with two California Highway Patrol officers who allegedly hit him with a Taser, hog-tied and handcuffed him after finding him wandering near the crash.
Her oldest son, Gabriel, who shared a love of the Raiders with his father, gave up playing football for nearly a year.
Her 13-year-old daughter, Alexis, writes poems to her father but is falling behind in school.
Her 10-year-old son, Cayden, refuses to go to school at all and sleeps on the couch with Murphy’s ashes.
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“I can honestly say that my household, we once sat down and laughed with each other and played games, and we don’t even do that anymore,” she said. “There are days I don’t even want to wake up because I don’t know what to do.”
One of the hardest parts for the family has been the lack of information about how and why Murphy died, Compher said. After an initial interview with CHP officers in December of last year, Murphy said she hasn’t heard from the agency since, despite her repeated requests for answers to a long list of questions.
Thursday, she will file a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force to push for more details.
“I don’t want it to come out as a negative. I just want to know what happened, that’s all,” Compher said. “I want to know his last moments. I still feel very much connected to him. I still feel he doesn’t want me to let go of it. I have to know, was he in pain? Did he say anything?”
The incident began when CHP dispatchers began receiving 911 calls about a wrong-way driver on Interstate 5 near Airport Boulevard at 11:26 p.m. on the night of Dec. 7, 2016. It was raining, and Murphy was allegedly driving north in the southbound lanes when he crashed his SUV into another vehicle near Power Line Road.
Murphy’s 2001 Toyota Highlander rolled and caught fire, shutting down both lanes of traffic, based on a Twitter post from the Sacramento Fire Department that was later removed from its feed.
The occupants of the other vehicle suffered minor injuries. Officers from the Woodland office of the CHP found Murphy, 41, “walking in and out of the lanes of traffic,” according to a news release issued by the agency almost two weeks later, after The Sacramento Bee inquired about Murphy’s death.
An officer approached Murphy and “attempted to escort him over to the shoulder for safety,” the release said. But Murphy “began to struggle with the officer and an altercation ensued.”
The two responding officers, Adam Poole and Michael Simpson, both used their Tasers in “drive stun mode” to gain control of Murphy, according to the release.
Drive stun mode with Tasers involves putting the device directly against the skin to deliver a painful electrical charge, rather than shooting skin-penetrating barbs meant to disable. The drive stun mode is considered a lesser use of force than firing the Taser.
The lawsuit also alleges that after using their Tasers, officers hog-tied and handcuffed Murphy.
Shortly after, Murphy became unresponsive. Compher said he was taken to UC Davis Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
Nearly a year later, CHP spokesman Rodney Fitzhugh said Wednesday the incident was investigated internally and turned over to the Sacramento County District Attorney for review.
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s office, which reviews all local officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, said its investigation is ongoing.
The county coroner’s office said it was unable to release an autopsy report for Murphy because of the DA’s ongoing investigation — leaving Compher without even a cause of death.
Compher said she is frustrated by the continuing lack of information and resolution. She had been separated from Murphy for about six years when he died and he had two younger children with another woman. He worked construction and sales, lived less than a mile away and saw the kids almost daily, she said.
“We were actually very close. ... I would come home from work and he would be here,” she said. “My current boyfriend and him got along and so it was just nice. Things were just nice. It was just good.”
She has been able to obtain medical records and records from the fire department, she said. But they have only added to her questions.
Compher said the medical records show Murphy had Taser barbs in his neck, shoulders and back – information that contradicts the CHP’s assertion that officers used their Tasers in drive stun mode.
Medical records show Murphy had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the accident, she said, leaving her to wonder why – and even if – he was driving the wrong way. She wonders if his car may have spun on the wet road.
“I have the report. It turned up nothing, no traces of it in his body, drugs or alcohol,” she said. “I was married to this man for 14 years. I know, there is no way he was this crazy person like that. My gut just tells me that something is not right.”
Compher thinks Murphy may have suffered a head injury that caused him to be confused and act erratically. She said his vehicle caught on fire after it rolled and he somehow got out before officers arrived, and could have needed medical attention.
While she waits for the case to wind through court, she’s trying to find ways to help her kids. She’s started a non-profit, the Murphy Foundation, to help families like her own who have lost a family member to police encounters. On Nov. 24, Black Friday, the family will join other groups at the Capitol at noon for a toy drive and rally.
She is also trying to get the kids to remember the good about their dad, the guy who took them fishing in Truckee and always took Gabriel to a Raiders game on his birthday. But it’s hard, she said. She started a memory jar, and when its full, she plans on sitting down to read the slips of paper together.
“But,” she said, “I’m the only one putting memories in right now.”