Last Wednesday, March 14, the family of Mycheal Lynch, who died at a Clark County jail in 2015, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Clark County, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins, Chief Jail Deputy Ric Bishop and 12 corrections officers who, according to the legal team, “withheld necessary medical treatment and employed unlawful excessive force against Lynch causing his death,” a news release from the legal team states.
The lawsuit is seeking “monetary and punitive damages in the fullest extent allowed by law,” and the news release outlines claims of pain, suffering, pre-death mental distress and ultimate death.
The legal team alleges that Lynch’s death was a result of Clark County’s “customs, policies, or official practices that allowed, encouraged, and directed ... custody officers to impose punitive disciplinary sanctions on inmates in distress or suffering from mental illness” and that the county and its jail administrators did not train corrections deputies on “proper non-lethal restraint techniques, failed to properly supervise jail deputies when employing use of force or deadly force, and unreasonably withheld necessary mental health and emergency medical care to Mycheal Lynch thereby demonstrating a deliberate indifference to known and foreseeable risks of harm or death.”
According to a news release, a tort claim against the county in 2015 served damages of $4 million.
“This is a heartbreaking case because Mycheal's death was such an avoidable tragedy,” said attorney Jack Green in the release. “We hope this suit will result in meaningful changes at the jail so another family doesn't have to cope with the loss of a loved one.”
Joining Green on the legal team are two other Vancouver attorneys, Gregory Ferguson and William Nelson.
"As this lawsuit progresses we expect to explore in detail what appears to be a troubling pattern of inmates being injured and ultimately dying at the hands of county corrections deputies while being restrained. Notably, this was the second jail inmate homicide death in a period of three years,” Ferguson said in the release.
Nelson worked a similar case in 2012 when he represented the family of Marius Asanachescu. The family filed a lawsuit against the county and its health care contractor after Asanachescu died under restraint. That case was settled out of court.
“The facts of this case are eerily similar to the Asanechescu case, and likely a deep disappointment to Marius’ family who sought justice for their son for the express purpose of preventing this type of tragedy from ever happening again,” Nelson said in the release.
Lynch died on March 20, 2015, and his death was ruled a homicide by the Clark County Medical Examiner, who found that he died of anoxic encephalopathy, which is a fatal brain injury resulting from a lack of oxygen.
The officers involved with Lynch’s death were cleared by the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney.
According to the lawsuit, Lynch was detained at the Clark County Jail on suspicion of a misdemeanor traffic offense after a call from his family prompted his arrest. He was held at the jail medical unit for a medical condition, possible intoxication from drugs and for showing signs of being emotionally and mentally distressed.
When he was booked, the lawsuit states, Lynch told law enforcement at the jail that he feared for his life. Once booked, Lynch repeatedly hit the call button for assistance. The lawsuit claims that a deputy told him that someone would kill him if he didn’t stop pressing the button.
Lynch continued to press the button, and deputies moved to transport him to a solitary confinement cell as discipline.
When two deputies came into Lynch’s cell to handcuff him, the lawsuit states that he panicked, and after escaping their grip, ran out of the cell and into the secured medical unit dayroom, where he fell to the ground after slipping. Around 10 officers piled on Lynch to restrain him, including holding his head against the floor. The lawsuit alleges that this caused two deep cuts in his forehead.
The weight of the 10 deputies cut off Lynch’s breathing, the lawsuit states, and even when both his hands and feet were cuffed in a matter of minutes, they remained on top of him.
The lawsuit states that as the officers were holding him down he said he couldn’t breathe and never attempted to fight back. While still being pinned down, Lynch lost bladder control and passed out. While unconscious, officers put a spit mask on him and waited a few minutes for restraint chair to be brought. The lawsuit says precious minutes were wasted during this time, including the time it took the deputies to move his body and strap him into the chair.
According to the lawsuit, it took several minutes for deputies to realize Lynch’s dire situation and to remove him from the chair and administer CPR. Firefighters and other emergency responders arrived soon after and began their own efforts to revive Lynch, who did not have a heartbeat. On route to the hospital, Lynch’s heart did start again, but he was brain dead by that point. After three days on life support, he died.
The legal team states in a press release that video surveillance from the jail will play a critical role in the case. Last year, a Clark County Superior Court judge found that the county’s withholding of the video following Lynch’s death for two years was improper because it is public record, and it was subsequently released.