Police brutality lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that the Minneapolis City Council recently approved a $3 million settlement with the family of a man that died in an incident with the city’s police officers. The man, 28-year-old Cornelius Smith, passed away in 2010 at the downtown YMCA.
This case is the second largest police payout in Minneapolis history. Smith was arrested in September 2010 for acting erratically at the YMCA basketball court, throwing the ball aggressively at other members. A YMCA employee called the police, to which officers Timothy Callahan and Timothy Gorman responded.
The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers struggled trying to contain Smith and ended up tasering him multiple times and holding him down for several minutes. At some point while being held down, Smith stopped breathing, and ultimately died in the hospital one week later. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
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Following his death, Smith’s family filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the officers used excessive force which eventually led to Smith’s suffocation. According to the suit, the officer’s used a controversial tactic referred to as “physical prone restraint” while trying to subdue Smith.
This tactic involves holding the arms and legs with varying pressure (depending on the circumstance) while the person being restrained lies on their front, in a face-down position. If the pressure to the back of the body is too forceful, it can become difficult to take in oxygen. Current Minnesota state law will ban prone restraint beginning in August 2013.
Smith suffered from Schizoaffective disorder, in which a person experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression. Schizoaffective disorder is not very well understood or defined, and is the reason why Smith was acting so erratically that day at the Y, and why employees involved the police.
Then-MPD police chief Tim Dolan denied that the officers used any excessive or undue force, and filed for an order of summary judgment asking all counts be dismissed. In April 2013, Judge Susan Richard Nelson announced she was going to deny the MPD’s request and set a trial for fall of this year.
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Legal experts affirm that most police in the Twin Cities area received training on how to avoid high-risk or controversial restraining tactics following the incident. Smith’s family hopes the case will raise more awareness on the topic and lead to further reformation. The lawsuit states that the risk of harm by anyone subjected to prone restraint is amplified by mental illness, physical exertion, and Taser usage, and that the officer’s use of all these methods compounded directly resulted in Smith’s death.
In 2008, a Minneapolis man named Quincy Smith died after similarly being tasered by city police officers during a domestic dispute response. That same year in Fridley, MN, another man died as a result of tasering after a roadway crash. Like Smith, both men were in their 20s and reportedly in good health before their deaths. According to Amnesty International, more than 350 people have died from Taser shocks since 2001.
The $3 million payout, as stated, is the second largest in Minneapolis history. In 2011, for example, the city paid about $4.7 million in settlements and liability claims involving the MPD, making it the biggest year for such payouts since 2007. The $4.7 million came from more than 30 separate cases, and the largest amount, $2.1 million, went to the mother of a man who was shot and killed by the MPD in 2006. In that case, a jury ultimately ruled that the fatal shooting was unjustified
Police misconduct lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are currently investigating cases involving serious injuries resulting from undue, excessive police force. If your constitutional rights were violated by a police officer, you may be entitled to significant compensation for any medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress.