A federal judge issued a ruling Thursday rejecting an effort by Cochise County and City of Willcox officials to get out of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a mentally ill inmate who was Tasered six times in 15 minutes and then stopped breathing strapped to a chair as detention and police officers walked by.
Luke Ian Hyde died March 10, 2019, six days after he became unruly in the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office substation in Willcox following nearly six hours without his prescribed medication for his mental illness. His parents sued various city and county officials and employees for $10 million, alleging excessive use of force, wrongful death, and violations of the Civil Rights Act.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Zipps denied a motion by all the city and county defendants to dismiss the lawsuit. Instead, the judge ordered the defendants -which include Sheriff Mark Dannels and Willcox Police Chief Dale Hadfield- to file a formal answer to the lawsuit by Jan. 26.
Court records show Hyde, 26, was booked into the CCSO jail annex in Willcox on the early morning of March 4, 2019 after being pulled over by a Willcox officer on suspicion of DUI. A blood draw only turned up the presence of Adderall, one of the six medications Hyde took for severe mental health conditions, including schizophrenia.
The parents’ lawsuit claims jail staff had access to Hyde’s medications and were either not properly trained to understand Hyde needed help or intentionally disregarded his need, which caused his mental health to deteriorate after going nearly six hours without proper care.
That’s when Hyde injured himself by slamming against a metal door. He then ran out of his cell while being given medical care for a cut on his head, and struggled with detention staff and police officers as they tried to subdue him.
Public records show Hyde was subjected to three Taser shocks in less than one minute, followed by three more over the next few minutes. He was also punched several times while struggling on the ground before being placed in a restraint chair.
Hyde stopped breathing in the chair. He died March 10 of the combined effects of blunt force injuries, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, attention deficit disorder, and heart issues including cardiomegaly and coronary artery atherosclerosis, according to the autopsy report. He also had a fractured vertebrae.
The medical examiner noted the manner of death as undetermined, as there was not sufficient evidence at the time to say whether Hyde’s death was accidental or homicide.
Zipps’ ruling means all of the parents’ claims can move forward, including one which alleges negligence.
“On the whole, Plaintiffs’ allegations regarding Defendants’ actions leading up to Luke’s eventual confinement in a restraint chair, where he was unable to breathe and passed, are sufficient to support potential negligence claims and are therefore sufficient to support Plaintiffs’ wrongful death claims,” she ruled.
The lawsuit also includes a failure to train claim.
“Because it is ‘known or obvious’ that the risks to detained individuals of not having access to their required medications, or of not being properly monitored after extreme physical altercations, can lead to constitutional violations, Cochise County’s and Willcox’s alleged omission of proper training of the officers responsible for (Hyde’s) arrest and detention supports plausible failure-to-train claims against these Defendants,” Zipps ruled.
The judge also noted government officials and employees generally enjoy qualified immunity from civil damages, unless their conduct violates “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Whether that conduct was unreasonable must be decided from the perspective “of a reasonable officer on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” she added.