Eric Matilton with his nieces last year. | Photo submitted by his family.


PREVIOUSLY: Sheriff Honsal is Refusing to Allow a Dying Man’s Organs to Be Donated. Parents and a Donor Organization Say He Won’t Explain Why.


In a dramatic reversal, Humboldt County Sheriff-Coroner William Honsal this afternoon met with the parents of 38-year-old Eric Matilton at St. Joseph Hospital, where Matilton has been on life support since attempting to hang himself in the county jail on Nov. 17, and told them that he will now allow them to pursue the donation of their son’s organs. [CORRECTION: The Matiltons met with Honsal at the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office.]

“I have agreed to have a forensic pathologist assist with the organ donation and also do the autopsy,” Honsal said in a text to the Outpost. “Doing it this way achieves both objectives and [allows us to] still adhere to our protocol.”

Honsal had previously indicated that departmental protocol mandated a thorough investigation into any death that occurs while in law enforcement custody, which rendered organ donation impossible, a stance that appeared to contradict provisions of California Health and Safety Code explicitly allowing organ donations from people who died “under circumstances requiring an inquest by the coroner.” 

The unexpected reversal was a welcome surprise to Matilton’s family and those working to facilitate organ donation.

“Hallelujah!” said Robynn Van Patten, chief legal and administrative officer/executive vice president of Donor Network West, the organization that has been working with the family to facilitate the organ donations.

Reached by phone, Eric’s father, Clyde Matilton, said he and his wife, Jeanine, met personally with Honsal at the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office.

“The only way this meeting came about was because of the publicity,” Clyde Matilton said. “That was kinda like the last hope for us.”

According to Clyde, Honsal apologized for not contacting them personally before today while saying the delay gave him time to investigate the situation and figure out a way to facilitate the two medical procedures. Honsal also told them that he hopes to be able to update county protocol so this doesn’t happen again, Clyde said.

“You know, [he was] saying all the right things,” he added.

Van Patten said she’s now busy working to facilitate the donation of Eric Matilton’s organs. “So we’re calling the pathologist who’ll be present,” she said. “He’s gotta come up from San Diego. The O.R. [operating room] is being set up for tomorrow.”

Van Patten added that she plans to be there personally.

Donor Network West had previously identified four compatible donors for Eric Matilton’s organs, including a Los Angeles resident who was in line for a heart transplant. But with the planned organ donation in jeopardy in recent days, those matches may have fallen through.

“This has been in such a state of insecurity that if other matches come up for those individuals, they’ll go with those,” Van Patten said. The contract pathologist coming up from Southern California will need to conduct testing to determine the stability and viability of Matilton’s organs, she added. “We’re in the process of re-allocating [the organs]. We need time to assemble the team.”

Clyde Matilton said he and his wife had to fight hard to honor their son’s desire to be an organ donor, and they take some solace in the fact that it’s now likely to happen. They’re hoping the pathology exam, autopsy and organ removal can take place as soon as tomorrow, though it may not happen until Sunday as the various parties involved assemble the necessary team.

Nonetheless, after sitting with their son on life support and in police custody for nearly two weeks, things appear to finally be moving in the right direction.

“It was a relief,” Clyde said regarding today’s developments. “We’re really happy this is happening, but my son is still dead. Now we gotta go do that, but I really am happy this is happening. He’s gonna save people’s lives.”


[NOTE: This post has been updated to include comments from Honsal, Van Patten and the Matiltons.]


UPDATE, 4:07 p.m.:

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office issued the following press release:

Eric Matilton was placed in custody at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility on November 3, 2023, for brandishing a firearm and a parole hold. On Friday, November 17, 2023, he was found in his jail cell by correctional deputies following an apparent suicide attempt. Rescue efforts were initiated and performed, and he was subsequently transported to the hospital for treatment.

As a result of this incident, Mr. Matilton’s injuries have been determined to be non-survivable.

In the event that an in custody death occurs inside the correctional facility, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and all county law enforcement agencies have signed an agreement to ensure that in custody deaths are investigated by the county’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT). Protocol requires that every in custody death must be fully investigated, including the completion of a forensic autopsy, by a contract pathologist. A forensic examination will be used to make a final determination of the cause of death. This protocol is in place to ensure a transparent, evidence-based investigation is completed and sent to the District Attorney for review.

As Mr. Matilton is an organ donor whose family desires to honor his wishes, Sheriff Honsal consulted with counsel, the District Attorney, subject matter experts and a forensic pathologist to see if there was a way to honor Eric’s wishes. As a result of these consultations, the Sheriff has agreed to have a forensic pathologist involved to pursue the donation of Eric’s organs and perform the autopsy to ensure investigation protocol is followed. The Matilton family was also consulted, and the donor network is now making these preparations.

Upon completion of the CIRT investigation, the Humboldt County District Attorney will review all facts and evidence in this investigation to conclude if there is any criminal liability.