The family of a Pennsylvania man who died in Evansville police custody in 2019 after struggling with officers is suing the city and three officers, alleging they caused his death by using excessive force.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Evansville on behalf of the family and estate of Edward Snukis of St. Clair.
The suit, which seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages, says three Evansville officers used “excessive and deadly force” on Snukis, 55, even though there was no indication he posed a danger to others.
Officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights and ultimately caused his death, according to the suit, which says Snukis is survived by his mother, three grown children and six grandchildren, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.
The suit contends officers failed to realize Snukis was having a mental health crisis, that he was having breathing problems during his struggle with officers, and that they failed to use “de-escalation techniques” to calm the situation.
“The officers’ relentless assault was not justified under the law or circumstances and caused Ed fear, distress, extreme pain and suffering, unconsciousness, asphyxiation, and death,” it states.
The Evansville Police Department said in a statement that it “stands by the actions of our officers” and denies that police used excessive force against Snukis, who died on Sept. 13, 2019.
“We believe the facts and evidence from that evening will fully exonerate the city and the officers from the wrongdoing alleged in the lawsuit,” the department states.
Officers in the southwest Indiana city encountered Snukis after receiving a 911 call about an apparently intoxicated man “hanging around” an auto dealership, according to the suit, which says the caller feared the man was in danger of being hit by a car because he was near a road.
Police body camera footage shows that after Evansville police arrived, Snukis tried to get away and began struggling with the officers, who used a Taser on him multiple times.
Police later said an officer also struck Snukis in the head with a “closed fist” while Snukis punched an officer and tried to grab another’s groin before they took him to the ground and handcuffed him.
The suit says officers continued to strike Snukis and exert “physical pressure with their hands, arms, and legs on Ed’s head, neck, shoulders, chest, and back” as he was on the ground. A third officer later arrived and helped restrain Snukis, it states.
On the police video, Snukis can be heard struggling for several seconds before falling silent. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The Vanderburgh County Coroner’s office ruled that Snukis died of methamphetamine intoxication and an enlarged heart. The family’s attorney, Mark Miller, said Snukis wouldn’t have died if the altercation with police had not occurred.
After an internal investigation, Evansville police said they found no evidence of excessive force and cleared the officers to return to work.
Former Evansville Officer Trevor Koontz resigned about two months after the incident, but the police department said his resignation was voluntary. Koontz is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The case in the Indiana Southern District Court is Snukis v. Taylor, et al., 3:21-cv-00135.