A 17-year-old set up for a drug sting by the Huntsville Police Department last June died from injuries suffered during his arrest, according to a federal lawsuit filed last month.
The City of Huntsville today denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
"It’s very unfortunate that he died," City Attonrey Peter Joffrion said. "But I have full confidence the police officers responding on the scene, handled this matter appropriately."
The lawsuit filed by Nancy Smith, on behalf of her unnamed minor son who is listed as “N.S.,” alleges police used excessive force and violated the civil rights of the teen. The lawsuit names Huntsville Police Department Chief Lewis Morris, Huntsville Police Department Sgt. Dewayne McCarver and four unnamed Huntsville Police Department officers, including one female officer and the City of Huntsville.
The lawsuit does not list the location of the incident, but alleges that it began when police decided to enlist an 18-year-old as a confidential informant to make a drug purchase from N.S. in the case on June 13, 2013. The lawsuit claims the informant went to the Smith’s home to purchase a controlled substance from N.S. with officers waiting nearby to make an arrest, if needed.
The lawsuit claims at some point in the transaction a female plain clothes officers came running toward N.S. and did not identify herself as an officer, so he began walking in the other direction. An officer grabbed him and threw him to the ground, cuffed him and pepper-sprayed him, the suit claims.
N.S. began choking, the lawsuit alleges, and at some point another officer called for paramedics.
"Minor N.S. was lying on the ground, unable to move as a result of the police officer confining him beneath the weight of his body and the effects of being pepper sprayed in the face," the lawsuit argues. "While handcuffed, defendant officer was forcefully and unlawfully shoving his knees into minor N.S.’s back, further hindering minor N.S.’s ability to breathe. Minor N.S. was unable to move any part of his body.
"Although Minor N.S. continued to choke and lose consciousness, defendant officers refused to remove his handcuffs or allow him to sit upright to attempt to breathe."
The lawsuit contends that when paramedics arrived they told police N.S appeared lifeless and had no pulse.
Police told the paramedics N.S. had swallowed a bag of drugs, causing him to choke, the suit claims. In an effort to retrieve the alleged bag, police had shoved a sharp object into the teen’s throat, the lawsuit claims. No bag was retrieved at the scene or at the hospital where he was treated until his death, the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit also claims N.S., who was 6 feet tall, 130 pounds, suffered two broken ribs as a result of the force used by police during the arrest, that the teen suffered cardiac arrest and his body had numerous bruises.
The teen died after five days in the hospital and has been dead for nine months, but the Madison County Coroner’s office has refused to release his autopsy report to the the teen’s mother, the lawsuit claims.
The suit also alleges the family has not been interviewed by any members of the Huntsville Police Department’s internal affairs division and the plaintiff contends it believes no internal investigation into the fatal incident has been completed.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and asks that the defendants be ordered to address policies regarding use of confidential informants and investigations of excessive force.