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Judicial Decisions

These cases were compiled by the AELE Law Enforcement Legal Center

Excited Delirium Death Cases

2005: Plaintiffs claimed that a Town failed to train and supervise their police officers on the risk of death associated with excited delirium or positional asphyxia, which lack of training resulted in the application of excessive force. “The evidence is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the County may be liable for failure to train under section 1983. First, the autopsy report indicates that ‘prone restraint’ and ‘excited delirium’ were amongst the causes of death. Second, Plaintiffs may be able to establish that the County acted with “deliberate indifference” by the fact that it included discussions of positional asphyxia and cocaine-induced excited delirium in its training materials for new officers but allegedly did not require its veteran officers to undergo similar training.” Watkins v. New Castle County.

2003: The decedent died of cocaine intoxication. The court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. The defendants argued that the plaintiff’s expert, should be precluded from testifying because his testimony “regarding ‘sudden in custody death syndrome’ is unreliable because no publication in the police community has recognized this syndrome.” The court found that the expert’s testimony was unnecessary for the purpose of a summary judgment motion. The court found that there was no evidence the officers knew of a substantial risk of harm to the decedent.  The city and county were entitled to dismissal because the plaintiff failed to prove an allegation of inadequate training. Hoyer v. City of Southfield.

Medical Attention Death Cases

2007: A police sniper’s conduct was objectively reasonable, and neither the officer nor the city was liable for killing the deceased; a decision to wait for a light armored vehicle for safety reasons does not rise to the level of conscious indifference, even if the delay may have contributed to the death of the plaintiff’s son. Long v. C&C of Honolulu.

2005: Officers had an obligation to move quickly when they became aware that a person they had arrested having trouble breathing and needed medication. A jury could properly find that the officers knowingly violated the man’s right to due process by waiting six minutes before calling an ambulance. Ashworth v. Round Lake Beach Police Dept.

Mentally or Emotionally Unstable Persons Death Cases

2007: Fifth Circuit refuses to dismiss a wrongful death action; police killed a delusional man who refused to drop a screwdriver. Meadours v. Ermel.

2007: Eighth Circuit rejects a wrongful death action where the deceased attacked officers with a Samurai sword. “... the officers’ use of deadly force was urgent and necessary to protect an officer under attack and was not constitutionally unreasonable.” Hayek v. City of St. Paul.

2005: Deputies were justified in shooting a schizophrenic man carrying a civil war sword because he unheeded their commands. They did not know that he was unable to hear them because he was wearing earphones and was not a threat to anyone. Blanford v. Sacramento County.

2003: Tenth Circuit rejects a malpractice suit against Tulsa and a police psychologist who assisted the SWAT team in negotiation with a mentally disturbed young man who eventually fatally shot himself. Christiansen v. City of Tulsa

2003: Police fatally wounded a man with bipolar disorder while executing an involuntary commitment warrant. Federal Court finds that Title II of the ADA does not apply to an officer’s on-the-street responses to reported disturbances or other similar incidents, whether or not those calls involve subjects with mental disabilities, prior to the officer’s securing the scene and ensuring that there is no threat to human life. However, the ADA requires police agencies to adopt policies and procedures for dealing with mentally ill persons, and that a failure to train police officers to peacefully deal with mentally ill persons is a violation of §12132 of the ADA. Schorr v. Bor. Lemoyne.

1994: The deceased, who was mentally unstable and violent when drunk, began firing a weapon from his parents’ front yard. Officers observed the deceased’s actions from a neighbor’s house and shot him after he aimed his gun in the general direction of the neighbor’s house and began firing. The court agreed that other officers, confronted with a similar situation, would have found that the force used by the officers was reasonable, and the officers were shielded from liability under the principles of qualified immunity. Liebenstein v. Crowe.

Positional, Restraint and Compressional Asphyxia Death Cases

2009: Hogtie death: “The application of the hobble may not have been entirely necessary; however, the officers’ attempts to restrain [the deceased] were not so violent and harsh to be considered an egregious violation of a constitutional right, and they are not an obstacle to the application of qualified immunity. Despite the unfortunate result that night, qualified immunity insulates the officers from liability for Lewis’s death.” Lewis v. City of West Palm Beach.

2009: Appellate panel rejected an inadequate training claim in a suit where a man was handcuffed and left on his stomach face down. The man died from positional asphyxia. “The record also demonstrates that [the officer] was trained in proper procedures for handcuffing individuals, the importance of monitoring individuals in custody, and when it is necessary to obtain medical help for an individual.” Sanders-Burns v. City of Plano.

2008: Deputy sheriffs were not entitled to qualified immunity in a lawsuit alleging that they used excessive force in removing a morbidly obese man from a courtroom after he was found in contempt of court, causing him to die after several deputies allegedly placed themselves on his back while he was on the floor. Richman v. Sheahan.

2006: Federal court declines to dismiss a wrongful death action alleging compressional asphyxia. “Putting significant pressure on a suspect’s back while he is in a face-down position after being subdued or incapacitated constitutes excessive force.” Jones v. Cincinnati.

2006: Defendants entitled to summary judgment because “there is no evidence that the officers were ever on notice that hog-tying posed a serious danger of substantial bodily harm or death.” Hill v. Carroll County.

2006: Summary judgment for the defendants. The use of force on a woman who was resisting and assaulting officers was not unreasonable. Although she stopped breathing and died, it was not caused by hog tying or positional asphyxia. Giannetti v. City of Stillwater.

2006: Compressional asphyxia of a mental patient caused a permanent coma; summary judgment for officers is reversed. Drummond v. Anaheim.

2005: Federal appeals court remands for a trial, a suit claiming that a police officer killed a man by crushing his lung while kneeling on his back. Four different doctors testified that a tremendous amount of air had been forced into the tissue surrounding the deceased’s lungs, as if his chest had been crushed or squashed. Abdullahi v. City of Madison.

2005: Plaintiffs claimed that the defendant police officers were not trained on the risk of death associated with excited delirium or positional asphyxia, resulting in the use of excessive force against the decedent. Because the autopsy report indicated that prone restraint and excited delirium were among the causes of the decedent’s death, the court held that the plaintiffs may be able to show that the county acted with deliberate indifference. Watkins v. New Castle Co.

2004: Michigan appellate court affirms a wrongful death verdict of a cocaine user who died after a police officer who applied his weight on the arrestee’s back with his knee while in a prone position. Smith v. Detroit.

2001: A hog tie on suspect with diminished capacity was considered excessive force in a Sec. 1983 action. Cruz v. City of Laramie, #99-8045, 239 F.3d 1183 (10th Cir. 2001).

1999: Conflicting expert testimony raised questions of fact as to whether placing the decedent in a prone position contributed to his death. A reasonable jury could infer that a violation of civil rights was a predictable result from inadequate training. Johnson v. City of Cincinnati.

1998: Officers did not use “deadly force” when they placed an arrestee face-down and hogtied him, and were not liable to his next-of-kin for wrongful death. Department did not inadequately train its officers on the dangers of prisoner restraint. Price v. Co. of San Diego.

Electronic Control Weapon Cases

In addition to the cases listed below, the Americans for Effective Law Enforcement (AELE) has compiled electronic control weapon cases, also called electronic control devices, conducted energy weapons, etc., by federal circuit. To access this free legal database, please click the following link:

2009: In a 2-to-1 holding, the appellate panel affirmed a trial court order removing electrical restraint from the cause of death in three instances. In the case of the McCullaugh the appellate court reversed only as to the trial judge's order with respect to chemical and mechanical restraint. Taser Int. v. Chief Medical Examiner.

2008: After a jury found that Taser International failed to warn purchasers of the risk of acidosis and cardiac arrest, following prolonged applications of its weapon, compensatory damage awards against Taser, totaling $1,021,000, were reduced to $153,150, because the deceased was 85% at fault in causing his injuries. The court overturned punitive damage awards of $5.2 million. The court then granted the plaintiffs’ motion for attorney’s fees. Heston v. City of Salinas, Cal

2005: Family of a disoriented, naked man who received multiple Taser shocks. The officers then handcuffed the man, placed him face down on a gurney and then placed him in an ambulance. The man ultimately stopped breathing and died. Sanders v. City of Fresno and Taser Intern.

2005: The manufacturer is dismissed from a suit where the officer discharged her firearm believing it to be her M-26 Taser. The plaintiffs claimed that Taser defectively designed the M26 “to so closely resemble a police service weapon” that a “reasonable police officer” would mistakenly draw and fire a handgun instead of the M26. Torres v. Madera.

2005: Officer mistakenly discharged his Glock .40 cal. sidearm at a resisting man, believing he held his M-26 Taser. The court ruled that an accidental shooting is not a constitutional violation. Atak v. Rochester

2005: An officer claimed that he reached for his Taser but mistakenly grabbed his firearm. The officer’s motion for summary judgment was denied on appeal. Henry v. Purnell.

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