We represented “Ben” on claims of excessive force, disability discrimination, and negligence by several police officers and the police department as a whole.
When Ben was young, he was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder and dysthymia. His auditory disorder meant that he could hear but often struggled to understand what he heard, like directions and speech, and dysthymia is a form of long-term depression. While growing up with these disorders, Ben experienced low self-esteem and isolated himself.
Despite his mental health issues and disability, Ben was a compassionate person. At age 25, he began playing Poker and winning large amounts of money. He often donated his money to the homeless or gave it to his friends and family, but he unfortunately also began to use drugs. While going through a major depressive episode, Ben began to contemplate suicide.
One evening, suffering from a mental crisis, Ben went to a nearby church with a large sum of money. While he was there, he spoke with a church elder for close to an hour about planning to commit suicide and told them he wanted to donate the money he had to them. After speaking with the church elder, Ben seemed to be feeling better. He agreed to come back the following day, and he did. He met with another worker at the church and talked about faith and mental health for several hours. Ben told the worker he wanted to donate more money, and the people at the church believed he was in a better place mentally.
The next day, Ben returned to the church again. This time, he brought another large sum of cash, but he also brought a gun. When he got to the church, he removed all of his clothing and sat down in front of the church next to the money and the gun. The church worker that Ben had met with the day before came out, and Ben asked him if he was Jesus. The worker remembered that Ben had mentioned using hallucinogenic drugs before and that he had expressed a desire to commit suicide. The church worker called 911 but noted that Ben was not threatening but rather just seemed confused.
The law enforcement response included over a dozen officers, a helicopter, a K-9 unit, and at least one Crisis Incident Team (CIT) member who had specialized training on issues regarding a mental health crisis. After law enforcement arrived, Ben stood up and began walking around carrying the gun, looking confused. There were no immediate commands directed toward Ben, and no communication from the CIT member. However, one of the officers on the scene did have a sniper rifle aimed at Ben, even though Ben had not made any sort of threats or pointed the gun at anyone. The sniper commented that he was intending to take a shot, even though no commands had been given. Eventually, another officer demanded that Ben put down the gun and walk toward the officers with his hands on his head, and Ben immediately obeyed.
The helicopter unit notified the officers that there were not any other visible weapons on Ben and that an officer could retrieve the discarded gun, but no officers grabbed the gun. Ben eventually made it close to the officers, and they began yelling conflicting commands while the K-9 unit barked at Ben. At this time, officers were aware that Ben was experiencing a mental crisis and was unarmed, compliant, and non-threatening, and despite having a CIT member on the scene, they did not employ any of the proper techniques for talking to Ben. Ben became scared and disoriented but continued to carefully walk toward the officers when one of them unleashed the K-9 unit without warning. Ben panicked and ran away from the dog while the dog attacked one of the officers on the scene. As Ben ran away, he was still naked, unarmed, and had not made any threats. Despite this, the sniper who had his gun aimed at Ben shot into his back without a warning, and Ben collapsed and was attacked by the dog only moments later.
In this case, officers knew that Ben was facing a mental crisis and had possibly taken hallucinogenic drugs. Not only did the officers neglect to use proper CIT techniques for de-escalating Ben’s panic, but they also unlawfully shot an unarmed and retreating person in the back without providing a warning or command to stop. As a result, Ben faced medical costs and severe trauma.
We filed a suit against the police officers and the police department as a whole for excessive force, disability discrimination, and negligence of the officers and department. Eventually, the police department settled for $525,000.
Though we were outraged at the treatment of Ben and the disproportionate force used in this instance, we were honored to represent him and advocate for his interests.
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