The fight of his life
When former cage-fighting champion Shawn Bias got into a tussle with Oroville police, he nearly ended up dead
Shawn Bias’ parents say their son tells them everything. They knew, for instance, that the 22-year-old mixed martial artist had been using drugs recreationally. They also understood that he planned to explore drug-abuse classes or counseling so he could quit.
Something was wrong, they realized, when he didn’t come home for a family dinner-and-movie night on Saturday, Jan. 19. And he didn’t call, which was unlike their charismatic and energetic son, his mother, Chris Bias, said.
Still, she couldn’t have been prepared for the message from Oroville Hospital she found on her phone the following afternoon.
“I’m sorry I have to tell you we have your son in critical condition. … He is in ICU and you need to get here,” a man’s voice said.
Shawn Bias was by then in a comatose state; he’d suffered a heart attack, and tubes had been put down his throat. He was also experiencing kidney failure. And his body was covered with cuts and bruises, his family said. As an aunt put it, “He was unrecognizable.”
His story has been told by local newspapers and on martial-arts Web sites, but until now, nobody has gotten his version of the events that put him in the hospital.
What’s widely known is that the 2004 Oroville High School graduate and mixed-martial-arts featherweight titleholder had an encounter with police because, officers said, he was “acting suspiciously.” This resulted in a struggle that included Bias getting hit with several Taser stun gun rounds before he was arrested.
After his arrest, Bias was released for medical treatment and taken to Oroville Hospital. When his family finally got there on Sunday, he had lapsed into a coma, and they were told he had only a 10 percent chance of surviving for the next 12 hours.
“It’s not right,” his father, Jon Bias, said. “I know [Shawn] isn’t perfect. He has had his issues, just like everyone else. But he isn’t out robbing and stealing. … We are not saying he wasn’t on drugs, but he didn’t deserve to almost die.
“Shawn has never been in a fight unless it is in the ring,” he continued, referencing his son’s three-year career as a professional cage fighter.
The police went too far, family members say. They beat Shawn nearly to death.
“When we got [to see Shawn], he looked like a ball,” Chris Bias said, overwhelmed with tears. “His eyes were so taut, his skin felt like plastic, his eyes looked like skin with eyelashes attached. He was so swollen.
“No parent should have to see their child look like that.”
As Oroville Police Chief Kirk Trostle explained it, Shawn Bias’ encounter with the police began when officers received a phone call from a resident of an apartment complex on Daryl Porter Way, near Hewitt Park, about 12:30 a.m. Jan. 19. “An individual was beating on several apartment doors and he was running from something,” Trostle reported. Three officers reported to the scene.
Trostle said Bias was possibly prowling and was displaying “odd behavior,” including beating on doors and yelling, as well as wearing shorts on a night when temperatures dipped to nearly 30 degrees.
When the police confronted Bias, Trostle said, he ran off. During the foot pursuit officers fired Taser rounds “and took him to the ground,” Trostle said. “As a result, he became combative with our officers. … Our officers were grappling with him—trying to get him handcuffed to control him.”
At one point Bias “lifted two of the officers off the ground,” Trostle said.
Altogether, Bias was tasered five times. Officers even “drive stunned” him, which means the Taser had direct contact with his body. Still, Trostle said, a Taser doesn’t leave marks like the bruises and possible burns that the Bias family reported finding on Shawn. At most it would leave “pinprick” marks, he said.
After being handcuffed, Bias was placed in a “wrap”—a harness made of canvas material that serves as a kind of strait-jacket for the legs. Once “wrapped,” a person cannot move.
“Our officers were reasonable in how they arrested Mr. Bias,” Trostle continued. “They used their hands to grab hold of Mr. Bias to try to gain control. … Our officers didn’t beat him, not at all.”
Why was it so difficult for three police officers to control a 5-foot-8, 145-pound man? “You are talking about a cage fighter,” Trostle replied. “We are talking about a guy who has had 12 wins in professional hand-to-hand fighting. Our officers were dealing with someone who is used to pain.”
Bias was not only combative with officers, Trostle said, but was also under the influence of cocaine and oxycontin—a speedball “racing through his entire system.” He suggested Bias was exhibiting a condition commonly referred to as “excited delirium.” That’s when a person under the influence of cocaine or other substances exhibits superhuman strength accompanied by agitation and bizarre behavior.
Bias has a much different account of the clash.
As he explained during a recent interview, he was “chillin’ ” with a group of friends, when they suspected someone was outside, possibly a prowler. Bias jumped out a window, saw someone with a shadow resembling a gun and became afraid, he said, which is why he ran away.
When police officers brought him down, he told them he was on drugs, he said. He wasn’t acting aggressively, and in fact prior to the incident had been relaxing on a couch.
“I wasn’t trying to hide anything. … I was scared,” Bias continued.
Whatever happened to him, it left him in a coma for three days. When he finally awoke, on Tuesday, he was still medicated and very confused, his parents said. He seemed afraid and shouted for help.
Six days after the ordeal, on Thursday, he rolled on his side and knew exactly who his mother was. Chris Bias was elated.
Still, doctors are concerned about his kidneys and have him on dialysis. He is in constant pain and is terrified he won’t be able to fight professionally again.
In the meantime, his case has been submitted to the District Attorney’s Office. Trostle said Bias could potentially face charges for prowling, being under the influence of a controlled substance, resisting arrest and violating probation resulting from a 2006 DUI arrest.
Trostle said officers were not aware that Bias was a martial-arts fighter and former high school wrestler until he was transported to the hospital.
In high school Bias was on the honor roll and excelled as a grappler. He was a three-time state wrestling championship qualifier, four-time league champion and four-time section placer. His parents still have every plaque and medal Bias earned, including a Corning High School Invitational Most Outstanding Middleweight Wrestler award in 2003.
Since then, Bias has developed a tough persona on the outside, starting with several tattoos, including one outlining his neck that says “Fear No Man,” a tribal design along his right eye, a phoenix bird on his chest and two swans in water that cover his left shoulder. But that is just for the ring, his father said.
Bias lost his featherweight title in a match Jan. 17 during a Palace Fighting Championship bout in Lemoore, submitting during the fourth round to a triangle choke. According to family members and articles printed on Sherdog, a Web site that follows mixed martial arts, Bias did not take a beating in the loss that would account for the bruises he had in the hospital.
The freestyle fighter, who has a 12-6 record, has made a career out of his martial arts He and his parents now share his worry that his injuries may damage or end it.
“I’m not a bad person,” Bias said. “I don’t want to be doing drugs. … People look up to me through wrestling. I don’t want people to think [drug use is] OK because I do it.”
He said it is ironic that he missed a family dinner at which he had planned to discuss treatment options with his parents because he was in the hospital.
“The whole thing was terrifying—it’s changed me,” Bias said, sitting upright in his hospital bed and forcing back tears. “I’m scared to sleep alone right now. … I don’t feel like I can trust people in the world right now. …
“Maybe in the long run, someone else doesn’t have to go through this,” he said as he continued to battle tears. “I just hope it’s not for nothing.”