Attorneys for police being sued over the 2020 death of a Mandan man say the officers used reasonable force, their actions were necessary in the situation and the lawsuit should be dismissed.
They argue further that the family of John “Ernie” Prudente waited too long to file the federal lawsuit on Feb. 8, 2022, the second anniversary of his death. He died after a traffic stop ended with a struggle between him and officers that sent him to the hospital, where he died.
Prudente’s family named Mandan Police Officers Mary Hamilton, Joshua Scherr and Dominic Hanson; Lt. Peter Czapiewski; Sgt. David Raugust; and the city of Mandan in the wrongful death suit. Hanson is no longer with the department.
The family in the complaint alleges that officers stopped Prudente based on an arrest warrant for an unpaid parking ticket that was in his father’s name, used unreasonable force, weren’t adequately trained, and were told Prudente had mental health issues but “acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs.”
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The city failed to adequately “train, supervise and control employees in the dangers of repeated Taser shocks” and restraint methods on people with preexisting medical conditions, and the officers’ conduct “constitutes a pattern of constitutional violations” by the police department, the complaint states.
The family seeks unspecified money damages for emotional distress, burial and related expenses, along with monetary damages as a way of punishing the defendants.
Attorney Alyssa Lovas in an answer filed July 19 said the family’s claims are barred by state law including the statute of limitations, and that officers are not liable for injuries inflicted in the use of reasonable force. She further states the suit can’t be heard in federal court under the 11th Amendment, which limits the ability of people to bring certain lawsuits in federal court.
Lovas also argues that officers are immune from civil liability unless they violate someone’s statutory or constitutional rights.
Police said Prudente, 36, drove off after they initiated a traffic stop on Feb. 8, 2020, pulled into the driveway of a home owned by his father, fought with officers and continued to struggle after being handcuffed. He then became “limp and unresponsive,” police said. Officers administered CPR, used an external defibrillator and gave Prudente a dose of Narcan. He was transported to a Bismarck hospital, and police learned later that he had died.
The lawsuit alleges Prudente drove from the traffic stop to the home and that Hamilton and Raugust followed him inside. Prudente lived with his parents, who told the officers he had mental health issues. Hamilton used her Taser on Prudente for one, five, and three seconds, and Raugust used his once for five seconds, the document states.
Prudente according to autopsy reports died of “excited delirium as a result of methamphetamine use and underlying diagnoses.”
Raugust and Hamilton were placed on administrative leave after the incident. They returned to duty after an investigation by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation concluded the officers had not committed a crime, Deputy Chief Lori Flaten said at the time. The autopsy showed no evidence of the use of excessive force, she said.
Excited or agitated delirium is characterized by “agitation, aggression, acute distress and sudden death, often in the pre-hospital care setting,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of a branch of the National Institutes of Health. The syndrome is associated with the use of drugs that alter dopamine processing, hypothermia, “and most notably, sometimes with death of the affected person in the custody of law enforcement,” according to the center. A treatment plan has not been established in part because most patients die before arriving at a hospital.
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have questioned the use of “excited delirium” as a medical term.