Auburn police are refuting allegations made by relatives of Native American actress Misty Upham that officers mistreated her and didn’t take her Oct. 5 disappearance seriously.
Upham, 32, was reported missing by her parents Oct. 6. Her body was found at the bottom of a 150-foot embankment in Auburn near the White River on Thursday, and the medical examiner has confirmed she died Oct. 5.
The cause of her death is still under investigation.
The late actress was known for her roles in “August: Osage County,” “Frozen River” and “Django Unchained.”
Since July 2013, Auburn police have responded to five incidents involving Upham and in four of them, Upham “did not object to being transported by private ambulance for further evaluation,” according to a news release Tuesday by police Cmdr. Mike Hirman. During the fifth incident, officers responded but Upham had already left the home and officers couldn’t locate her, the news release says.
On Friday, a Facebook post attributed to five of Upham’s family members said they think her death was an accident, not suicide. They said the family believes Upham was attempting to hide from police when she ran into a wooded area behind her apartment, then slipped and fell off the steep embankment. A family member found her body.
The Facebook post also said that during an earlier incident, five family members watched as officers taunted and teased Upham after she was handcuffed and placed in a patrol car to be involuntarily transported to an emergency room.
In the news release, Hirman said in one of the contacts with Upham, it “has been inferred that she may have suffered a black eye at the hands of police, but that is not correct.” In a written report related to that incident, which does not indicate a date, Upham stated “she had sustained a sprained ankle and black eye when she jumped out of a two-story window,” the news release says.
“This poor woman needed help, and we’re not going to do something like that,” Hirman said in an interview, responding to the family’s allegations against police.
He said Auburn police had Upham involuntarily committed for mental evaluation twice on July 21, 2013 — once in the morning, then later that night — and again on Aug. 15 and Aug. 21 of this year. He said Redmond police also had her committed on July 30.
Officers investigating her disappearance this month were told by friends “she didn’t want to get committed again,” Hirman said.
He said the medical examiner’s office is awaiting a toxicology report before ruling on Upham’s cause of death, but Hirman said it appears to have been an accident, noting her purse was found at the top of the embankment and that a broken, fairly clean vodka bottle was found close to her body.
She suffered massive internal and external injuries, Hirman said.
Upham’s father, Charles Upham, said Tuesday he felt releasing information about the vodka bottle was “a cheap shot” — as if “some drunken Indian” was responsible for her own death.
“I think it’s very insensitive and rude,” he said, adding “I think the system failed her in so many ways.”
Upham’s family has said she struggled with mental illness most of her life and had managed it well, until she moved to Washington this year to help care for her father, who had suffered a stroke. Her family said she wasn’t able to get the same medication after she moved, which caused her to slip into bouts of depression and panic attacks.
Charles Upham said his daughter was told in June she’d have to wait until November to get on proper medication.
Upham criticized police for not listing his daughter as an endangered missing person, something police have said they couldn’t do because in order for someone to qualify as endangered, a disappearance must be considered unexplained, involuntary or suspicious.
“The Native American community came together and got the job done. We’d done their job for them,” Upham said of police.
Hirman said he knows the family is grieving.
“We get it the family is upset and needs to project their anger and frustration someplace. It’s not about us,” he said.
In his news release, Hirman wrote that the department has not received any complaints that Upham was mistreated by officers from Upham or her family.
“Also, police did not ignore Ms. Upham’s disappearance in the most recent episode,” the news release says.
After her parents reported her missing on Oct. 6, her name and information was entered into a statewide, law enforcement data base and police performed area checks in and around the house where she was last seen, the release says.
Family and friends provided police with locations in Auburn, White Center, Federal Way and Seattle where she may have gone and officers “immediately followed up on all reports of her possible whereabouts,” says the news release.
In addition, officers “made three attempts to ping her cellphone, and gain historical data from the cell phone provider that could potentially help us locate her, but this was to no avail as her service had been disconnected prior to her disappearance,” Hirman said in the news release.