Police, City of WPB Off the Hook for Hogtie Death

On October 19, 2005, Donald George Lewis was found stumbling into traffic in Riviera Beach, seemingly under the influence of narcotics. Court papers say he was "breathing heavily and grunting incoherently" and ran into traffic rather than obey officers' orders to sit down. He was described as "an agitated and uncooperative man with only a tenuous grasp on reality."

Officers put him in handcuffs and also in an ankle restraint, then decided to "attach the ankle restraint to the handcuffs with a 'hobble' cord," also known as a "TARP" for "total appendage restraint position." Court papers say that the cops pushed on Lewis' back and "the hobble was tightened so that Lewis' hands and feet were clamped together behind his back in a 'hogtied' position." Only after he was restrained in this manner did police notice he had become unconscious. They tried performing CPR, but he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Lewis' mother, Linda Lewis, sued five individual police officers and the City of West Palm Beach. She lost the case in district court but appealed. In her case in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, she alleged that the officers had used excessive force and that the pressure on her son's neck caused his death -- not "respiratory arrest following... cocaine-induced excited delirium," as the city argued. She tried going after the city, alleging that it hadn't properly trained officers in proper use of the hobble.  

In its decision released last week, the appeals court let the police officers off the hook, writing that they could be granted qualified immunity in the case because they were performing their jobs. The court also ruled that Lewis' argument against the city did not meet legal standards for municipal liability. The court granted the city summary judgment. 

In any case, it was nice to know that police training officer Gerald MacCauley testified during proceedings that "it is not department policy to hogtie arrestees."

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Deirdra Funcheon