Police brutality attorneys report that an Illinois coroner has reclassified the death of a man allegedly beaten while in police custody as a homicide. The victim died in the hospital one week after the alleged beating.
45-year-old Darrin “Dagwood” Hanna was arrested in November 2011 in North Chicago after police responded to a domestic disturbance call from his apartment. Hanna yelled at officers to shoot him, fighting with them until he was subdued. Witnesses say Hanna was carried out of his apartment on a stretcher, more than 20 minutes after police arrived, with a sheet covering his face. Hanna was taken to Vista Medical Center East, where he died one week after the initial confrontation.
Then-Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey ruled Hanna’s death “undetermined,” citing numerous causes of death by multiple organ failure. The combination of complications included acute and chronic cocaine abuse, physical trauma, taser restraint, hypertension, poor kidney function, and sick cell crisis.
More than a year later, in November 2012, Democrat Thomas Rudd was elected Lake County’s next coroner, replacing Artis Yancey. Rudd specifically mentioned Hanna in his election campaign, criticizing Yancey’s handling of the case and ensuring that causes of death in cases such as his will be truthful, professional, and medically accurate. His election represents the first time in Lake County history that a physician pathologist is placed at the office head. Rudd reversed Yancey’s initial ruling from “undetermined” to “homicide.” Rudd considers “homicide” a neutral term, stating he purposefully did not use the words “murder” or “manslaughter” to avoid bias.
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Rudd affirms that he used the protocols of the National Association of Medical Examiners in his reassessment, stating that Hanna probably wouldn’t have died but for the actions of the North Chicago Police officers. He also stated that changing the manner of death does not indicate any change in the ruling on the numerous causes of death. Rudd’s reanalysis linked the violence of Hanna’s arrest with his sickle cell anemia, stating that the force the police applied instituted breakdown of his muscles. This breakdown enacted chemical release into the blood. These chemicals affected the kidney, lungs, and other vital organs to the point of systematic shut down.
The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office claims the officers used reasonable force when responding to the domestic incident. They initially refused to charge any of the officers involved in the incident, although one officer was later fired and another was given a 30 day suspension.
The reversal is considered a significant, albeit extremely delayed, step forward by Hanna’s friends and family. The man’s death produced a storm of protest in the North Chicago community, as many victims of police misconduct joined Hanna’s family in speaking out against the alleged brutality.
In the wake of Rudd’s decision, Hanna’s family is now able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against North Chicago. They are claiming that Hanna died as the direct and exclusive result of being tasered for 20 minutes and suffering repeated blows from officer’s batons and fists. Six North Chicago officers are being sued by Hanna’s survivors. The city’s attorneys consider the reclassification a political act and inconsequential. Rudd stresses his reanalysis did not conclude that Hanna’s death was a crime, merely that his death resulted from volitional acts.
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When a police officer negligently or intentionally kills someone in an altercation, the victim’s family may be entitled to compensation. Hanna’s family is hoping to prove that police used excessive and inappropriate force, including the inordinate use of a stun gun, when subduing Darrin Hanna. Police misconduct such as this not only violates the law, it threatens the immense trust we place in law enforcement officers as well. If you or someone you love was the victim of police brutality or misconduct, consider seeking guidance of a civil rights violation lawyer to discuss your potential claim.