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Wrongful death suit against Fort Wayne police proceeds

September 19, 2018

The estate of a man who died from a cocaine overdose while chained to a desk in police custody may proceed with a wrongful death suit against the city of Fort Wayne, a federal court ruled.

The U.S. Court for the Northern District of Indiana granted in part and denied in part summary judgment for five City of Fort Wayne detectives alleged of violating Lance Royal’s Fourth Amendment rights.  

In 2015, Fort Wayne detectives took Royal into custody after conducting a traffic stop related to an on-going narcotics investigation. Detectives noted that Royal was chewing on small pieces of cocaine and ordered him to spit it out.

When asked if he swallowed any of the substance, Royal said he had not. However, while chained to the interrogation desk at the Fort Wayne police department, Lance had a seizure and suffered a lethal overdose.

Shondra Royal, Lance’s wife and personal representative of his estate, alleged the defendants caused his death through the denial of post-arrest medical care. Shondra filed a wrongful death suit against the City of Fort Wayne and requested punitive and other damages.

The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on Royal’s wrongful death claim alleging the officers failed to reasonably respond to his medical needs when it found the officers immune to the claim under the Indiana Tort Claims Act. The court found no genuine disputes for the jury regarding whether the officers failed to reasonably respond to Royal’s medical needs.

However, it denied the defendants’ request for summary judgment on the Indiana Wrongful Death Act claim based on a theory of respondeat superior.

“Plaintiff’s claim against the City of Fort Wayne under a theory of respondeat superior survives. Because the Indiana Wrongful Death Act claims survive summary judgment on the merits and because there is no dispute that the officers were acting in the scope of their employment, Plaintiff can pursue this claim against the City of Fort Wayne,” Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry wrote. “The Court denies the motion for summary judgment on the Indiana Wrongful Death Act claim against the City of Fort Wayne.”

The court also denied summary judgment for the detectives on Royal’s § 1983 Fourth Amendment claim for failure to provide medical care.

The court did grant summary judgment to the Fort Wayne defendants on Royal’s civil rights claims of failure to train, familial interference, loss of consortium, assault and battery and false imprisonment.

The case is Estate of Royal v. City of Fort Wayne et al., Case No. 1:17-cv-00247.

 

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