City, HPD named in wrongful death suit - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

City, HPD named in wrongful death suit

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Nancy Smith said officers used excessive force and attacked her 17-year-old son during an undercover drug bust. Nancy Smith said officers used excessive force and attacked her 17-year-old son during an undercover drug bust.
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

A North Alabama woman is suing Huntsville and the police chief for claims that her son died at the hands of police.

Nancy Smith said officers used excessive force and attacked her 17-year-old son during an undercover drug bust. In the suit, Smith makes it clear that she believes her son died because of action taken by Huntsville police officers.

Smith said her son was set up by police. She said when they witnessed her son allegedly buying drugs from an informant they used excessive force to arrest him.

The 16-page lawsuit states the officers involved did four things that led to his death: the first being that they allegedly threw the 17-year-old down to the ground with force and pepper-sprayed him. The suit also claims the officer restricted his ability to breath by shoving their knees into his back. It claims the officer used a sharp object to dislodge what they thought was a bag of drugs he swallowed, and finally broke the teenager's ribs in the process.

Another count in the suit is assault and battery. Legal expert Mark McDaniel said the most significant claims are that the officers violated the 17-year-old's civil rights and are in turn responsible for the teenager's death.

The attorneys in the case hope to prove the incident is outrageous and was a malicious and intentional act. McDaniel said if they can prove those two claims to a judge, this could become a lengthy jury trial. He said first, the police department will have to respond to the claims.

"Their position will be that the officers did not violate the person's civil rights and the actions were not outrageous; that they did everything they could within those circumstances to save his life after there was a problem," he said.

The lawsuit states no bag of drugs was actually found. The teenager died five days after the incident at Huntsville Hospital. The coroner ruled there was an undetermined cause of death. A request for more information was directed to the Alabama Lab of Forensic Sciences, where a pathologist conducted a report.

A public record request for that information has been filed.

McDaniel said while some of the claims could be true, right now they are only allegations. "The plaintiffs certainly feel like they have something going, or they wouldn't be filing a complaint – but they are just allegations right now," said McDaniel.

"They will now take depositions – it's called ‘discovery' – all of the police officers and everybody involved. After they get those statements under oath, then you can see what if any of the allegations and part of the complaint stands," he continued.

Smith also claims the city and police chief withheld facts and reports from her and her family in order to avoid a lawsuit. She said an internal investigation was never conducted. Her attorneys are demanding a jury trial.

Huntsville Police was reached for comment, but we have not heard back from the police chief.

You can read the full lawsuit in PDF format here.

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