Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Appeals court clears Puyallup Tribe cops in suspect’s death

by October 10th, 2011

Puyallup Tribe police officers acted properly and under the protection of tribal sovereign immunity when in May, 2007 they subdued with a stun gun an erratically-behaving intruder named Jeffry Young at a tribal drug treatment center who then in their custody died of “excited delirium syndrome.” The news comes in a a ruling released today by the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division One. The ruling holds the three officers are not liable for claims against them by Young’s brother Chris including excessive force, wrongful death and civil rights violations.

According to the ruling, Jeffry Young, who was not a tribal member, came to an inpatient drug and treatment center on the Puyallup reservation and trying to impersonate a doctor, sought access to see patients. He was denied entrance by an attendant but continued to refuse requests to leave from a security officer and then tribal police. According to the December 2010 court brief of the security officer, Benjamin R. Isadore, Young was “agitated, yelling, acting erratically and in a threatening manner.” Police moved to physically detain him and when he resisted they tackled him and shot him with a stun gun so they could apply restraints. They soon noticed he wasn’t breathing, and checking his pulse, found that he had died. The Pierce County Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death to be “excited delirium syndrome,” classified as accidental.

After initiating and then withdrawing an action in Puyallup Tribal Court in 2009, Chris Young filed suit in Pierce County Superior Court in 2010 against three police officers present, the security officer Isadore and the tribal police chief Daniel “Joe” Duenas, seeking monetary damages based on claims including excessive force, wrongful death and civil rights violations. The tribe filed a motion to dismiss, asserting the county court had no jurisdiction over the incident. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Susan K. Serko ruled in favor of the tribe, dismissing Chris Young’s claims. Young then appealed to the state, focusing his claims against the three tribal police officers personally; Joseph S. Fitzpatrick, Christopher E. Dausch and John Scrivner.

According to the appeals court ruling released today, the officers are not liable for Jeffry Young’s death because they were acting “in their official capacity and within the scope of their authority” and thus they are protected under federal law by sovereign immunity which extends not only to officially-recognized tribes but also to tribal officers and employees. The ruling was authored by Judge Marlin J. Applewick, with judges J. Robert Leach and Michael S. Spearman concurring.

A legal brief filed in December 2010 on behalf of Duenas says Jeffry Young had a pre-existing heart condition and a “history of psychosis.” According to the brief, Young’s death was investigated by the Puyallup Tribe, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington State and the Tacoma Police Department. After review of these inquiries the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s office determined the officers involved had behaved properly.

Chris Young’s attorney Yale Lewis III of Seattle was not immediately available for comment.

UPDATE, 10/11/11: Lewis said he would appeal the case to the Washington State Supreme Court. More details to come, in a follow-up report here, soon.


RELATED:

Seattle Police 2010 Excessive Force Probes: No Smoking Guns Found,” Public Data Ferret

Seattle Police Office of Professional Accountability: 2009 Complaint Statistics,” Public Data Ferret

Police Legitimacy and Predictive Policing,” Public Data Ferret


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