Massachusetts police face lawsuit after deadly pile-up

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the Massachusetts state police after a man attempted to flee a DUI checkpoint on foot and officers allegedly piled on top of him, suffocating the man to death. Ultimately, at issue is whether the qualified immunity reserved for police officers applies in this wrongful death case.

The incident occurred in November 2009 after the victim approached a sobriety checkpoint on Route 114 in Essex County. The man had allegedly just lit a marijuana cigarette and upon seeing the officers attempted to put it out and buckle up.

One officer allegedly noticed the man’s swift actions and could smell of marijuana when his vehicle approached. The officer ordered the man out of the vehicle, which is when he attempted to flee on foot.

There were 33 officers on-site conducting the checkpoint, and between 10 and 15 quickly apprehended the man and brought him to the ground before shackling his legs and handcuffing him. Eleven minutes passed before the man was placed in a police cruiser.

By the time the man reached the Massachusetts police barracks, he was unconscious, and when an ambulance arrived, he had no pulse. He was pronounced dead at midnight. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide after determining that the man died from “blunt impact of the head and torso with compression of the chest.”

In the wake of this determination, the man’s family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the town of North Andover and 17 police officers.

Earlier this month, a judge denied requests for summary judgment, ruling that a jury should decide most of the claims. Claims against officers that didn’t touch the victim or were not part of the scuffle were dropped.

“Defendants may be correct that this was precisely the kind of dangerous and rapidly evolving situation which qualified immunity was designed to cover but, in light of the many unsettled issues of material fact, that decision is properly reserved for the jury,” the judge held.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Jury to Hear Claims of Police Pig Pile Gone Bad,” Rose Bouboushian, April 19, 2012