A lawsuit filed recently in the 9th federal circuit hinges on ADA considerations that may resonate with many agencies.
In this case (LaDue v. City of Talent, et al.), a subject with a history of schizophrenia smoked a “synthetic cannabinoid” product and then later died in the throes of excited delirium during a confrontation with law enforcement. Officers involved are accused of excessive force, and two municipalities, a county, and a rural fire district are accused of failing to provide training on how to deal with mentally disabled suspects.
The ultimately fatal incident is said to have started on a September afternoon in 2012 when the 23-year-old subject, having depleted his usual stash of marijuana, was given a free sample of Bizarro Incense, a smokeable “aroma therapy” product, at a smoke shop in Oregon.
That evening, after toking an unknown amount of Bizarro, he began acting bizarro.
“Agitated and disoriented,” he wandered into a blackberry patch behind his parents’ home, appearing “severely intoxicated,” hearing voices, and repeatedly stating, “I’m on fire.” When he became violent as his father tried to help him, a family member called 911. Uniformed officers from two small communities, a sheriff’s deputy, and several paramedics were dispatched.
The EMS crew refused to intervene until the cops acted, according to the amended civil rights complaint filed last month in the federal district court for Oregon. When the LEOs confronted him in a neighbor’s driveway, he at first seemed cooperative. But then he “changed his mind” and refused to comply with commands, although he allegedly was “not aggressive nor threatening.”
Before he was finally handcuffed, according to the suit, the sweating, struggling, “intermittently incoherent” subject had been Tasered in probe or stun-drive mode at least 24 times, kicked in the ribs and chest, pepper sprayed, and subjected to hair holds and officers’ dog-piled body weight. When officers called on paramedics to help achieve restraint, they allegedly “stood idly by and refused to provide assistance”–until the suspect eventually stopped breathing once he was hooked up.
“Sudden cardiac arrest during an episode of agitated delirium” killed him, the state medical examiner determined.
Before they attempted to restrain or take custody of him, the responding officers knew the subject “had a mental disability,” the lawsuit states. Their agencies knew that persons suffering from mental illnesses and/or drug overdoses may develop excited delirium, that it was “highly probable” their officers would encounter such individuals, and that persons in such a delirious state “are at a highly elevated risk of death from ordinary law enforcement use-of-force [control] methods.”
The failure of the responders’ agencies to adopt policies, tactics, and training on “how to properly…deal with mentally disabled persons and persons suffering from agitated delirium” was directly linked to this subject’s death, the suit alleges.
This negligence and the resulting on-scene tactics constitute violations of the reasonable-accommodation provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal civil rights legislation, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs (the dead man’s parents) demand a jury trial and $5,000,000 in damages.
Included among defendants in the action are the corporations and individuals involved in the manufacture and retailing of Bizarro Incense.
The case is now in its early discovery phase and with multiple parties and legal issues a trial date is not expected until next year, according to plaintiffs’ attorney David Park.
Our thanks to Atty. Michael Brave, member/manager of LAAW International LLC, for alerting us to this lawsuit.