After Cash Hyde died at home in his father’s arms, Mike Hyde called the family’s social worker to let the professional know the 4-year-old terminally ill boy had passed.
That phone call late Wednesday night triggered a series of events that will be under review by the Missoula Police Department and one that still has Hyde and his family reeling.
Hyde believed the call would bring someone from the funeral home to pick up “Cashy,” but instead five law enforcement officers in uniform ended up at his home as more than a dozen friends and family members grieved the death of their beloved toddler.
“They shut down my whole house and treated it like a murder scene, and I asked them kindly to leave several times and come back in the morning. And they told us no,” Hyde said.
Three police officers arrived at the scene, and they indeed said no to Hyde’s request because they followed protocol, said Missoula Police Department Chief Mark Muir. The social worker called 9-1-1, he said, and that phone call dispatched officers to the scene, and police had no idea Hyde wasn’t expecting them.
“The police had an obligation to determine that this death, which occurred outside of a hospital and not under the direct care of a physician, was a legitimate medical death as opposed to an accidental death or one being caused at the hands of another,” Muir said.
The chief said he does not want to criticize the man in his grief, but he also pointed out that had hospice been involved, police would not be obligated to review the scene, which was treated not as a crime scene, but as a death scene.
On Thursday morning, after Hyde posted a scathing assessment of the evening on Facebook, Muir also contacted Hyde.
“I apologized to him this morning for the fact that we failed to meet his expectations of how this should have been handled,” Muir said.
Cashy was born in 2008, and at just 20 months old, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Eventually, he was diagnosed with malignant and aggressive cancer, one with a high fatality rate.
For a while, Cashy combatted the sickness and slogged through the treatments, earning him the nickname “boy of steel,” but eventually he worsened. The family spent 2 1/2 years in hospitals, Hyde said, and he promised his son he wouldn’t have to die having medical professionals stab him with needles and point flashlights in his eyes.
“We’ve lived in hospitals. I’ve had doctors in hospitals trying to unplug him. I promised him we would do this at the house this time, and he would get no more pokes and there would be no more doctors. That’s what I promised him,” Hyde said.
In July 2012, the Hydes went home knowing their son would fight his final battle there, but he would do so in peace.
On Wednesday night, Cashy’s parents, Mike and Kalli Hyde, grandparents, uncles, cousins, an aunt, neighbors and others grieved the boy’s passing in the South Hills home.
The peaceful moments after his death were soon interrupted. Shortly after Hyde called his social worker, police arrived at the door, and Hyde said he was forced to pull out his son’s medical documents and look on as the “very cocky and rude” police “dug through medical records.”
“By the time I was able to get back to Cashy to hold him, he was cold and stiff, and the coroner took him to the room and undressed him and took pictures of his little body like he was such a piece of meat, and it was the most awful, the most awful thing I have ever seen,” Hyde said, who cried as he shared the story and said the coroner described his son as “property” according to state law.
He knows the Missoula community loves Cashy, but he no longer wants his son’s body to be buried in Montana. Hyde said his family has plots in Salt Lake City, and Cashy will rest up on Mount Calvary.
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On Thursday morning, Hyde put up a post on Facebook requesting that people call Mayor John Engen and Chief Muir about the way police treated his family. The police chief and the mayor called to apologize, Hyde said, but he said “sorry doesn’t cut it.”
Hyde understands law enforcement officers must follow protocol, but he said it wasn’t hard to understand the circumstances around Cashy’s death: “Everybody in Missoula knows our journey and our battle. We’ve been very open. It was very obvious what just happened. Our whole family was there.”
Hyde, who had registered to be a medical marijuana caregiver for his son, also believes the police showed up at his house to make a statement against marijuana. When he first registered, he said, a police detective questioned and harassed him and threatened to send armed officers to “kick down our door.”
Muir, though, said police likely had no idea Hyde was a registered caregiver when they arrived at the Hyde residence. He did know about the alleged threats against Hyde.
Muir, who apologized for not meeting the Hyde family’s expectations, said it was too early to tell whether the response met the city of Missoula’s expectations. He also said there may be a difference of opinion on whether the demeanor of the officers was “consistent with our values.”
Police spent an hour and 25 minutes at the scene, a typical timeframe, and they requested the coroner bring along a chaplain, who doesn’t go to every call, he said.
“I think the officers certainly understood that the family was undergoing a tremendous amount of stress and grief,” Muir said.
According to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, the coroner came to an agreement with the family so they could have more time to grieve. They agreed to leave the body of the boy at the home until morning, longer than usual, when the funeral home would pick him up.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to this family,” read a public message from the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office. “As coroners, we work with families in their most difficult moments in life on a daily basis, and we always do everything we can to provide compassionate assistance.
“We hope people understand that we rarely if ever have issues when working with grieving families. Many of us have young children, so we offer our heartfelt condolences.”
In a news release, the Missoula Police Department offered condolences as well, and it offered to provide “police escorts for the funeral procession.”
“The entire Missoula Police Department wishes to express its deep sorrow to the Hyde family for their loss and pray that the support of the community will be of comfort to them in their grief,” wrote Capt. Scott Hoffman in the release.
While Muir praised the unusual action by the coroner, he also said he wouldn’t condone bending protocol on the part of police because when his officers arrived, the cause and manner of death were not known. And police had a duty to verify and document the death, he said.
“I think people need to know that we feel badly that the family’s expectations were not met, but that we hope that the community support that they are seeing will sort of aid them in their healing,” Muir said. “And we do understand that the loss of a loved one is a critical and stressful time in our lives, and we certainly understand why they would have wanted more time, and we’re glad that they were able to get it once we had fulfilled our duties,” Muir said.