EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — The sister of an Oregon man who died of asphyxiation in a Eugene police car after wrapping a seatbelt around his neck has filed a $9 million wrongful death suit against the city and police department.
The federal civil rights suit alleges police failed to recognize that Michael Amador Sanchez, 34, was suffering from a mental health crisis, failed to properly secure him in the patrol car to monitor his conduct in the rear seat or summon an ambulance to properly care for him.
The suit, filed by his sister Isabel M. Mihalich in U.S. District Court in Eugene Friday, seeks $6 million in non-economic damages and $3 million in economic damages, as well as unspecified punitive damages, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
Sanchez had a diagnosis of bipolar disease with psychotic features and had run-ins with police before his Jan. 30, 2019 arrest, according to the suit.
Eugene police declined comment on the suit. After Sanchez’s death, Eugene police Chief Chris Skinner released a statement, calling it a “tragic circumstance.”
Eugene police arrested Sanchez on an accusation that he had lit a fire in a wheelbarrow outside a business. Once in the police car back seat, he wedged himself in the floorboard, lying on his side, with his legs on the seat and head on the floor, the suit says.
A seat belt wasn’t put on Sanchez because he kept kicking at officers and thrashing, according to Melinda McLaughlin, Eugene police spokeswoman.
With his hands and feet bound, Officer Carlos M. Jones drove him to a hospital and after some minutes, the officer noticed Sanchez became quiet and wasn’t responding, according to the lawsuit.
When Jones arrived at the hospital, the suit says, he went inside to speak with a nurse. Another officer who was following them found Sanchez unresponsive, according to the suit. A nurse found a seatbelt had become wrapped around his neck twice, the suit says.
Emergency medical personnel restarted his heart, but he never regained consciousness and died on Sept. 18, 2019, according to the suit.
According to a statement from Eugene police, Sanchez was able to remove the flexible restraints around his feet and was “able to place a seatbelt around his neck,” even while handcuffed.